111 Stoic Quotes for Modern Times

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Stoic Quotes
Old Philosophy books on a bookshelf

These Stoic quotes on Preparation, Motivation, Survival, Mindfulness, Time, Life, Desire, and Noise are useful in stirring thoughts on how they apply to our lives today. Most of them are from years ago, and some were never intended to be published. They are from private journals like Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and others were written by students taking notes from their teachers. A few of these are from “modern” stoics as well.

Review these and think about their meaning. Pull out a notebook and write down what it means to you. It is interesting how human nature hasn’t changed over thousands of years, and it still rings true today.

17 Stoic Quotes on Preparation

Stoicism teaches us to prepare for uncomfortable situations. Having a plan and visualizing our challenges keeps us calm and allows us to act without hesitation or panic. 

statue of Seneca
Statue of Seneca

“That person has lost their children: you too, can lose yours; that person received sentence of death: your innocence too, stands under the hammer. This is the fallacy that takes us in and makes us weak while we suffer misfortunes that we never foresaw that we could suffer. The person who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.” – Seneca

“If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” – Seneca

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.” Marcus Aurelius

“If you’ve seen the present, then you’ve seen everything–as it’s been since the beginning, as it will be forever. The same substance, the same form. All of it. You’ll meet this ‘future,’ with the same weapons you’ve met everything else in your life with. Whatever is coming, you can handle…because it’s already here, because it’s always been with you.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too.”— Marcus Aurelius

“Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock.” – Seneca

“What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. The fact that it was unforeseen has never failed to intensify a person’s grief. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events.” – Seneca 

“This is why we need to envisage every possibility and to strengthen the spirit to deal with the things which may conceivably come about. Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. Misfortune may snatch you away from your country… If we do not want to be overwhelmed and struck numb by rare events as if they were unprecedented ones; fortune needs envisaging in a thoroughly comprehensive way.” – Seneca

“A commander never puts such trust in peace that he fails to prepare for a war.” – Seneca 

“Everyone faces up more bravely to a thing for which he has long prepared himself, sufferings, even, being withstood if they have been trained for in advance. Those who are unprepared, on the other hand, are panic-stricken by the most insignificant happenings.” – Seneca

“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.” – Seneca 

“Set aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, and with rough, coarse clothing, and will ask yourself, ‘Is this what one used to dread?” – Seneca 

“Barley porridge, or a crust of bread, and water do not make a very cheerful diet, but nothing gives one keener pleasure than the ability to derive pleasure even from that — and the feeling of having arrived at something which one cannot be deprived of by any unjust stroke of fortune.” – Seneca 

“When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Because I have understood the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, I know that these wrong-doers are still akin to me … and that none can do me harm, or implicate me in ugliness—nor can I be angry at my relatives or hate them. For we are made for cooperation.” – Marcus Aurelius

“We must undergo a hard winter training and not rush into things for which we haven’t prepared.” – Epictetus

“Here’s a lesson to test your mind’s mettle: take part of a week in which you have only the most meager and cheap food, dress scantly in shabby clothes, and ask yourself if this is really the worst that you feared. It is when times are good that you should gird yourself for tougher times ahead, for when Fortune is kind, the soul can build defenses against her ravages. So it is that soldiers practice maneuvers in peacetime, erecting bunkers with no enemies in sight and exhausting themselves under no attack so that when it comes they won’t grow tired.” – Seneca

“Walk the long gallery of the past, of empires and kingdoms succeeding each other without number. And you can also see the future, for surely it will be exactly the same, unable to deviate from the present rhythm. It’s all one whether we’ve experienced forty years or an eon. What more is there to see?” – Marcus Aurelius

8 Stoic Quotes on Motivation

Sometimes we lack the motivation to get started, to improve, and we fall into a negative state of mind. We think it is going to be difficult, and it won’t be fun. We should remind ourselves that these are just thoughts; usually, successful people are not pessimists.

“The one thing all fools have in common is that they’re always getting ready to begin. They’re always putting things off, always saying, “I’ll do it later.””- Seneca

“Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own resume – if you care for yourself at all – and do it while you can.” –  Marcus Aurelius

“That’s why the philosophers warn us not to be satisfied with mere learning, but to add practice and then training. For as time passes we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite, and hold opinions the opposite of what we should.” – Epictetus

“It is in vain to ruminate upon, or even reflect upon the authors or causes of our present misfortunes. Instead of looking backwards, we should rather exert ourselves.” – George Washington

“The Pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty” – Winston Churchill

“When you let your attention slide for a bit, don’t think you will get back a grip on it whenever you wish—instead, bear in mind that because of today’s mistake everything that follows will be necessarily worse. . . . Is it possible to be free from error? Not by any means, but it is possible to be a person always stretching to avoid error. For we must be content to at least escape a few mistakes by never letting our attention slide.”  – Epictetus

“Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.” – Marcus Aurelius

“It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.” – Seneca

15 Stoic Quotes on Survival and Adversity

These quotes apply not just to an extreme survival situation but to any difficulties we face. Panicking, complaining, and getting angry are just making the situation worse, not better. Our mind can make us feel the situation is worse than it is.

“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man without trials.” – Seneca

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent—no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” – Seneca

“How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” – Seneca

“The Stoic tells himself that although the situation may appear frightening, the truly important thing in life is how he chooses to respond.” – Donald Robertson

“The founder of the universe, who assigned to us the laws of life, provided that we should live well, but not in luxury. Everything needed for our well-being is right before us, whereas what luxury requires is gathered by many miseries and anxieties. Let us use this gift of nature and count it among the greatest things.” — Seneca

“Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole…Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, ‘Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?’ You’ll be embarrassed to answer.” — Marcus Aurelius

“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed” – Marcus Aurelius

“Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. The twining strands of fate wove both of them together.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” – Seneca

“We cry to God Almighty, how can we escape this agony? Fool, don’t you have hands? Or could it be God forgot to give you a pair? Sit and pray your nose doesn’t run! Or, rather just wipe your nose and stop seeking a scapegoat.” – Epictetus

“Difficulties show a person’s character. So when a challenge confronts you, remember that God is matching you with a younger sparring partner, as would a physical trainer. Why? Becoming an Olympian takes sweat! I think no one has a better challenge than yours, if only you would use it like an athlete would that younger sparring partner.” – Epictetus

“You must stop blaming God, and not blame any person. You must completely control your desire and shift your avoidance to what lies within your reasoned choice. You must no longer feel anger, resentment, envy, or regret.” – Epictetus

“If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining.” — Marcus Aurelius

“Difficulty shows what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror, but it is not accomplished without sweat.” – Epictetus

25 Stoic Quotes in Mindfulness

Our thoughts can control our feelings if we do not pay attention to them.  It sounds funny, but we should pay attention to our thoughts. Are we in a negative state of mind? Why? There is no point in worrying and having anxiety about things outside of our control. The key to being mindful is we control how we respond to a situation. It is our choice and our choice alone.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.” – Epictetus

“Stop letting anxiety rule you. Today I escaped anxiety… wait, no, that’s not right. Actually I discarded it. It was within me.”  Marcus Aurelius

“You have power over your mind not outside events, realize this and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius

“It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgements that they form about them.” – Epictetus

“If you want something good, get it from yourself.” – Epictetus

“You can bind up my leg, but not even Zeus has the power to break my freedom of choice.” – Epictetus

“If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.” – Marcus Aurelius

“We should always be asking ourselves: ‘Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?’” – Epictetus

“Take a lyre player: he’s relaxed when he performs alone, but put him in front of an audience, and it’s a different story, no matter how beautiful his voice or how well he plays the instrument. Why? Because he not only wants to perform well, he wants to be well received — and the latter lies outside his control.” – Epictetus

“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.” – Seneca

“Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man’s task.” – Epictetus

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus

“We have the power to hold no opinion about a thing and to not let it upset our state of mind—for things have no natural power to shape our judgements.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Today I escaped from a crush of circumstances, or better put, I threw them out, for the crush wasn’t from outside me, but in my own assumptions.” – Marcus Aurelius

“My reasoned choice is as indifferent to the reasoned choice of my neighbor, as to his breath and body. However much we’ve been made for cooperation, the ruling reason in each of us is master of its own affairs. If this weren’t the case, the evil in someone else could become my harm, and God didn’t mean for someone else to control my misfortune.” – Marcus Aurelius

“There are things in life which are advantageous and disadvantageous—both beyond our control” – Seneca

“If a person gave away your body to some passerby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled—have you no shame in that?” – Epictetus

“A person who doesn’t know what the universe is, doesn’t know where they are. A person who doesn’t know their purpose in life doesn’t know who they are or what the universe is. A person who doesn’t know any one of these things doesn’t know why they are here. So what to make of people who seek or avoid the praise of those who have no knowledge of where or who they are?” – Marcus Aurelius

“From the very beginning, make it your practice to say to every harsh impression, ‘you are an impression and not at all what you appear to be.’ Next, examine and test it by the rules you possess, the first and greatest of which is this — whether it belongs to the things in our control or not in our control, and if the latter, be prepared to respond, ‘It is nothing to me.’” – Epictetus

“Epictetus says we must discover the missing art of assent and pay special attention to the sphere of our impulses—that they are subject to reservation, to the common good, and that they are in proportion to actual worth.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Try praying differently, and see what happens: Instead of asking for ‘a way to sleep with her,’ try asking for ‘a way to stop desiring to sleep with her.’ Instead of ‘a way to get rid of him,’ try asking for ‘a way to not crave his demise.’ Instead of ‘a way to not lose my child,’ try asking for ‘a way to lose my fear of it.’” – Marcus Aurelius

“For nothing outside my reasoned choice can hinder or harm it—my reasoned choice alone can do this to itself. If we would lean this way whenever we fail, and would blame only ourselves and remember that nothing but opinion is the cause of a troubled mind and uneasiness, then by God, I swear we would be making progress.” – Epictetus

“Remember, then, if you deem what is by nature slavish to be free, and what is not your own to be yours, you will be shackled and miserable, blaming both gods and other people. But if you deem as your own only what is yours, and what belongs to others as truly not yours, then no one will ever be able to coerce or to stop you, you will find no one to blame or accuse, you will do nothing against your will, you will have no enemy, no one will harm you, because no harm can affect you.” – Epictetus

“When forced, as it seems, by circumstances into utter confusion, get a hold of yourself quickly. Don’t be locked out of the rhythm any longer than necessary. You’ll be able to keep the beat if you are constantly returning to it.” – Marcus Aurelius

7 Stoic Quotes on Time

Tempus Fugit is a Latin Phrase for “time flies.” Time is a resource that we can never get more of. Every day we have less and less. Instead of worry and regret, we must use our time wisely and live our lives with this in mind. Don’t waste it on unnecessary things.

ancient sundial
Time our most precious resource

“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” – Seneca

“Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too.” – Marcus Aurelius

“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.” – Seneca

“Remember: Matter. How tiny your share of it. Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it. Fate. How small a role you play in it.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Diogenes of Sinope said we sell things of great value for things of very little, and vice versa.”  – Diogenes Laertius

“It is said that if you would have peace of mind, busy yourself with little. But wouldn’t a better saying be do what you must and as required of a rational being created by public life? For this brings not only peace of mind of doing few things, but the greater peace of doing them well. Since the vast majority of our words and actions are unnecessary, corralling them will create an abundance of leisure and tranquility. As a result, we shouldn’t forget at each moment to ask, is this one of the unnecessary things? But we must corral not only the unnecessary actions but unnecessary thoughts, too, so needless acts don’t tag along after them.” – Marcus Aurelius

“How disgraceful is the lawyer whose dying breath passes while at court, at an advanced age, pleading for unknown litigants and still seeking the approval of ignorant spectators.” – Seneca

26 Stoic Quotes on Life

Life seems like a huge topic. But, it can just boil down to improving each day. Every evening ask yourself, “how did I improve today?” We should focus on improving ourselves and the outside world, not on the things that have “affected” us. Happiness comes from within and not from external forces.

man walking with his young daughter beside a scenic lake at sunset
What is the most important in your life?

“A better wrestler? But not a better citizen, a better person, a better resource in tight places, a better forgiver of faults?”  – Marcus Aurelius

“Don’t explain your philosophy. embody it.” – Epictetus

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” – Seneca

“No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” – Epictetus

“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.” – Marcus Aurelius 

“If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself you should say: ‘He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned’.” – Epictetus 

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents.” – Epictetus

“Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person.” – Epictetus

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live. To err is human, but to persist (in the mistake) is diabolical.” – Seneca

“Anything or anyone capable of angering you becomes your master.” – Epictetus

“I bought a cheap watch from a crazy man, Floating down canal, It doesn’t use numbers or moving hands, It always just says now, Now you may be thinking that I was had, But this watch is never wrong, And if I have trouble, the warranty said – Breathe in, breathe out, move on” – Song Lyrics by Jimmy Buffett

“There are two things that must be rooted out in human beings—arrogant opinion and mistrust. Arrogant opinion expects that there is nothing further needed, and mistrust assumes that under the torrent of circumstances there can be no happiness.” – Epictetus

“Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus

“Remember to conduct yourself in life as if at a banquet. As something being passed around comes to you, reach out your hand and take a moderate helping. Does it pass you by? Don’t stop it. It hasn’t yet come? Don’t burn in desire for it, but wait until it arrives in front of you. Act this way with children, a spouse, toward position, with wealth—one day it will make you worthy of a banquet with the gods.” – Epictetus

“Of all the things that are, some are good, others bad, and yet others indifferent. The good are virtues and all that share in them; the bad are the vices and all that indulge them; the indifferent lie in between virtue and vice and include wealth, health, life, death, pleasure, and pain.” – Epictetus

“If you should ever turn your will to things outside your control in order to impress someone, be sure that you have wrecked your whole purpose in life. Be content, then, to be a philosopher in all that you do, and if you wish also to be seen as one, show yourself first that you are and you will succeed.” – Epictetus

“In public avoid talking often and excessively about your accomplishments and dangers, for however much you enjoy recounting your dangers, it’s not so pleasant for others to hear about your affairs.” – Epictetus

“When it comes to money, where we feel our clear interest, we have an entire art where the tester uses many means to discover the worth . . . just as we give great attention to judging things that might steer us badly. But when it comes to our own ruling principle, we yawn and doze off, accepting any appearance that flashes by without counting the cost.” – Epictetus

“First off, don’t let the force of the impression carry you away. Say to it, ‘hold up a bit and let me see who you are and where you are from—let me put you to the test’…” – Epictetus

“You say, good fortune used to meet you at every corner. But the fortunate person is the one who gives themselves a good fortune. And good fortunes are a well-tuned soul, good impulses and good actions.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Older and wiser voices can help you find the right path, if you are only willing to listen” – Jimmy Buffett

“You have proof in the extent of your wanderings that you never found the art of living anywhere—not in logic, nor in wealth, fame, or in any indulgence. Nowhere. Where is it then? In doing what human nature demands. How is a person to do this? By having principles be the source of desire and action. What principles? Those to do with good and evil, indeed in the belief that there is no good for a human being except what creates justice, self-control, courage and freedom, and nothing evil except what destroys these things.” – Marcus Aurelius

“All study of philosophy and reading should be for the purpose of living a happy life… we should seek precepts to help us, noble and courageous words that can become acts… we should learn them in a way that words become works.” – Seneca

“Won’t you be walking in your predecessors’ footsteps? I surely will use the older path, but if I find a shorter and smoother way, I’ll blaze a trail there. The ones who pioneered these paths aren’t our masters, but our guides. Truth stands open to everyone, it hasn’t been monopolized.” – Seneca

“Don’t act grudgingly, selfishly, without due diligence, or to be a contrarian. Also, don’t overdress your thought in fine language. Don’t be a person of too many words and too many deeds. . . . Be cheerful, not wanting outside help or the relief others might bring. A person needs to stand on their own, not be propped up.”  – Marcus Aurelius

9 Stoic Quotes on Desire

We tend to think, “Once this or that happens, I will be happy.” This is just a want, and it does not lead to happiness. It gets replaced by another want. We can want more and more our entire life and never be happy. We have everything we need right now. We don’t need anything else. With this attitude, we are wealthy, it is all in our perception.

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus

“When children stick their hand down a narrow goody jar they can’t get their full fist out and start crying. Drop a few treats and you will get it out! Curb your desire—don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.” – Epictetus

“It is essential to make oneself used to putting up with a little. Even the wealthy and the well provided are continually met and frustrated by difficult times and situations. It is in no man’s power to have whatever he wants; but he has it in his power not to wish for what he hasn’t got, and cheerfully make the most of the things that do come his way.” – Seneca

“Freedom isn’t secured by filling up on your heart’s desire but my removing your desire” – Epictetus

“So, concerning the things we pursue, and for which we vigorously exert ourselves, we owe this consideration—either there is nothing useful in them, or most aren’t useful. Some of them are superfluous, while others aren’t worth that much. But we don’t discern this and see them as free, when they cost us dearly.” – Seneca

“I was shipwrecked before I even boarded … the journey showed me this—how much of what we have is unnecessary, and how easily we can decide to rid ourselves of these things whenever it’s necessary, never suffering the loss.” – Seneca

“Remember that it’s not only the desire for wealth and position that debases and subjugates us, but also the desire for peace, leisure, travel, and learning. It doesn’t matter what the external thing is, the value we place on it subjugates us to another . . . where our heart is set, there our impediment lies.” – Epictetus

“It’s ruinous for the soul to be anxious about the future and miserable in advance of misery, engulfed by anxiety that the things it desires might remain its own until the very end. For such a soul will never be at rest — by longing for things to come it will lose the ability to enjoy present things.” – Seneca

“Remember that your ruling reason becomes unconquerable when it rallies and relies on itself, so that it won’t do anything contrary to its own will, even if its position is irrational. How much more unconquerable if its judgments are careful and made rationally? Therefore, the mind freed from passions is an impenetrable fortress—a person has no more secure place of refuge for all time.” – Marcus Aurelius

4 Stoic Quotes on Noise

The news, social media, gossip – all noise clouds our thinking and makes us anxious. All this noise can make us forget the other important items above. Reduce daily noise, take a walk, get outside, read, and journal. 

hiking trail in a wooded area
Get away from the noise

“Are you distracted by breaking news? Then take some leisure time to learn something good, and stop bouncing around. Keep in mind the mistake to be so distracted that you wear yourself out and lose a purpose by which you can direct your impulses and thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Whenever disturbing news is delivered to you, bear in mind that no news can ever be relevant to your reasoned choice. Can anyone break news to you that your assumptions or desires are wrong? No way! But they can tell you someone died—even so, what is that to you?” – Epictetus

“The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.” – Seneca

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.” – Seneca


I hope you enjoyed this collection of quotes we put together and you thought about how they can apply to your life today. Take a look at our other MINDSET guides.

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Jason has an engineering and problem solving background. He is an avid outdoorsman, survivalist, and competitive shooter. He enjoys researching the best and most practical solutions for the problem at hand, studying stoicism, and finding innovative ways to be prepared.