In modern culture, “stoic” is thrown around a lot. It often conjures up ideas of robotic people with no emotions (who are often quite annoying in their emotionless state). However, in ancient times, the term meant something completely different.
What is a Stoic person? A Stoic is someone trying to be a better person and live a better life, usually by controlling their perceptions and seeing things as they are. They aren’t trying to eliminate emotions, but they aren’t letting their emotions control them.
Stoics get angry all the time. However, they don’t let their angry feelings lead to horrible decision-making. The Stoic controls their emotions – not the other way around.
How Did Stoicism Start?
Stoicism is a very old tradition. It originated in Athens, Greece, in the early 3rd century BC. It was founded by a philosopher named Zeno of Citium, who taught in a public hall called the Stoa Poikile, from which the name “Stoicism” is derived.
The philosophy gained popularity in ancient Greece and Rome. Many prominent figures embraced it, including the Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca, the emperor Marcus Aurelius, and the slave-turned-philosopher Epictetus.
However, other figures of the time disliked it. At one point, philosophers were even banned from Rome. Like today, politicians often don’t like people who taught their citizens how to think for themselves.
Stoicism continued to be influential throughout the medieval period, and its ideas were incorporated into the teachings of many Christian theologians. However, the philosophy declined in popularity during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, when rationalism and empiricism became dominant modes of thought.
In the 20th century, Stoicism experienced a resurgence of interest, with many modern philosophers and self-help writers drawing on its ideas to promote personal growth and well-being. Today, Stoic books reach the top of the bestseller list.
Stoicism remains a popular philosophy today, emphasizing rationality, self-control, and personal responsibility appealing to many people seeking guidance on how to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. The modern world can often be meaningless, and stoicism infuses some of that meaning into the world.
Who Were the Famous Stoics?
There were many famous Stoics throughout history, and many famous individuals were known to utilize stoic principles.
Epictetus was one of the most famous Stoics. He was a former slave who wrote about Greek philosophy, eventually devoting much of his time to stoicism.
Seneca is another Greek philosopher. He was a statesman and philosopher who wrote many essays containing stoic philosophy. Many of our modern sources come from his writings.
One of the most famous stoics was Marcus Aurelius. He was the last of the “five great emperors” and kept a journal that outlined stoic philosophy. His journal survived and is still read today. Many stoic quotes come from his journal.
His journal is considered one of the most important pieces of stoic work.
What is a Stoic Person and What Do they Do?
Stoicism contains many different practices. Not everyone does every practice; you can benefit from stoicism without committing to doing everything. However, like with most things, you get what you put in.
There are six main practices that most stoics do, though. These may be done in slightly different ways depending on the person.
Stoics value virtues. There are four main stoic virtues: Courage, Justice, Temperance, and Wisdom. Stoics believe living by these virtues is the only way to happiness.
Like Marcus Aurelius said: “If at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, truth, self-control, courage — it must be an extraordinary thing indeed.” Living virtuously should be the aim of everyone, even in the 21st century.
We may live very differently from Marcus today. However, stoics still hold that the stoic virtues are the key to living a good life.
If you want to live like a stoic, memorize these virtues and live by them – as well as you can. Small acts of virtue build upon each other. Even something that seems completely unimportant (like whether or not you get out of bed) is a time to exhibit virtue. Nothing is so small that it should be ignored.
Choose “Alive” Time
Stoics take responsibility for how they spend their time. We’ve all heard of “dead time.” It’s the time you spend sitting in traffic or waiting for your flight to take off. Most people spend this time idle, which is why it is “dead.”
However, stoics believe that all time should be spent doing something meaningful. You can influence the world around you. Other people will always be late, and your plans will rarely stand up to first contact. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use the hours you’re given.
The Stoics advised that you should never “kill time.” Instead, you should spend a valuable way to spend that time. Don’t stay idle. Always be working towards something.
This concept applies to the minutes and hours we spend waiting every week. Don’t scroll aimlessly through social media next time you’re waiting for an appointment. Instead, read a book or use your phone to learn something new consciously.
It also applies to long periods when you may be waiting for something. Maybe you’ll be finishing up those last few courses for your degree or waiting for a promotion. Don’t spend your time idling while waiting for life to catch up.
Time is valuable. We only get so much of it. Don’t spend most of your life “killing” time.
Having the correct perceptions is vital to living a good life. How can you expect to react if you can’t see things correctly?
However, our perceptions can be altered by a range of factors. We often confuse our feelings with the truth. Just because we feel like something happened doesn’t mean it did. We give meaning to the events around us, which can adjust how we respond.
For instance, the next time your child throws a tantrum about nothing, consider that the child is having a hard time. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be throwing a fit. The tantrum isn’t a way to get back at you or a slight – it’s just a sign of your child’s current emotional state.
Just like children, adults can throw tantrums, too. We can all think back to a time we overreacted. Or, perhaps, we read too far into someone else’s actions. Sometimes, a comment is just a comment – not a sign that someone dislikes us or is set out to harm us.
Nothing is necessarily good or bad. We may not control what happens to us. However, we can control how we react. Next time something seemingly horrible happens, flip the situation over and consider how it could be good. Don’t read too far into other people’s motivations or makeup meanings that aren’t there.
You can’t be virtuous or hone your perception without reflection. It’s how we review where we’re at, where we’ve come from, and where we want to go. Without reflection, nothing else is possible.
You should spend some time reflecting on each day. Often, this is done via journaling. You can use this journal to explore what you accomplished that day and what you could do better.
Different Stoics suggest journaling at night, while others suggest doing it during the morning. In the end, it doesn’t matter when you do it as long as you do it regularly and truthfully.
Mindfulness is a key component of stoic philosophy and practice, and it involves being fully present and aware of the current moment. This means focusing on what is happening right now rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
For a stoic person, mindfulness means paying attention to the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that arise in the present moment and observing them without judgment.
Rather than getting caught up in negative emotions or ruminating on past mistakes, a stoic person strives to stay focused on the here and now.
Practicing mindfulness can be beneficial in several ways. First, it can help reduce stress and anxiety by promoting a sense of calm and relaxation. When mindful, we are less likely to get caught up in worries or fears about the future. Instead, we can focus on what we can control in the present moment.
In addition, mindfulness can help us cultivate a greater sense of self-awareness and insight. By observing our thoughts and emotions without judgment, we can better understand ourselves and our reactions to situations. This can help us identify patterns of behavior or thought that might be holding us back or causing us stress and can provide a foundation for personal growth and development.
Mindfulness is not a one-time practice. It’s a continuous process that is quite difficult. It’s something you have to have a lot of dedication on. I’ve read tons of books on mindfulness. However, I still slip up most of the time.
Mindfulness and reflection go hand-in-hand. They help each other. Therefore, by journaling, I’ve found that you can become more mindful.
Negative visualization is a key practice in Stoicism, which involves imagining the worst-case scenarios to prepare yourself for adversity and develop a greater sense of gratitude for what you have.
The idea behind this practice is to cultivate a sense of emotional resilience and to prevent oneself from becoming too attached to the things that can be taken away.
The practice of negative visualization involves intentionally reflecting on the possibility of negative events occurring, such as losing your job, getting sick, or experiencing the death of a loved one.
By contemplating these scenarios, you can better prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for when these events inevitably occur.
Through negative visualization, Stoics aim to cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the present moment.
By reflecting on the possibility of losing what one has, you can develop a deeper appreciation for the things and people in your life and are less likely to take them for granted.
The practice of negative visualization can be challenging, as it involves confronting uncomfortable thoughts and emotions.
However, many Stoics have found that it can be a powerful tool for developing emotional resilience and cultivating inner peace and acceptance.
Negative visualization helps me plan for any hang ups, which goes a long way to reducing anxiety. By making backup plans for my backup plan, I’m ready for anything that happens, which helps prevent stress.
This is especially true when preparing for emergencies or during a survival situation.
I have nothing to be stressed about because I’m ready for anything.
What To Do Next?
Stoicism is something you have to get better at constantly. You won’t just wake up one day and be a stoic person. It’s more of a practice than something you are.
There were many different stoic people throughout history. Some were stoics. Others were famous people that used stoicism. These people inspire modern individuals to practice stoicism.
However, it’s also important to look at stoicism from a practical perspective. For instance, if you’re practicing negative visualization, you may want to consider getting a bug out bag together to help you prepare for emergencies.
Or, watch season 8 of Alone, and see how one contestant uses Stoicism in a survival situation.