Pressure is a difficult thing, and today we’re going to learn how to use Stoicism to develop a state of mind that can withstand it when it inevitably comes.

On the one hand, we need enough pressure so that we don’t get stagnant and waste away, atrophying in our comfort zone.

On the other hand, if we experience too much, there’s a risk that we just fold, fail, or become avoidant all together.

Most of us have probably heard the cheesy “pressure turns coal into diamonds” speech that gets thrown around all over the internet. While the saying does have some merit, I think Viktor Frankl puts it in a much more useful way when he speaks about tension. He said:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”

More and more people are looking for that discharge of tension Frankl speaks of. And while a tensionless and pressure-less existence might be comfortable for a while, its the pressure that causes us to grow and develop, its the expansion of our comfort zone that builds confidence as we learn to trust ourselves in new situations, and it’s tension that ultimately pulls us into our potential.

To help keep us resilient and steadfast when faced with pressure, we’re going to look to the Stoics like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus.


I’ll be brief here because I’ve written a lot about the basics of Stoicism, which you can find here.

You can also find a guide on how to get started here.

The original Stoics, led by Zeno of Citium, began to gather in the Agora of Athens around 301 BC.

Their time was spent discussing the best way for a person to live so that they could reach eudaimonia, a Greek word used to describe a condition of happiness, a good spirit, and flourishing.

Part of their philosophy looked at how people can reduce their suffering by thinking about the world around them in a different way and, in doing so, perceiving it differently.

This change in perception is often enough to change how we feel about something. Turning fear into understanding and anxiety into acceptance.

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things.”

– Epictetus, Enchiridion, Chaper 5

To that end, below are four rules to help us reframe how we think about the world around us in order to help us stay resilient under pressure.

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Rule 1: Practice Amor Fati (Love of Fate)

Amor Fati is the practice of learning to love fate, and while it might seem like a simple thing, in practice it can be quite difficult.

Learning to love fate requires us to keep three things in mind:

  1. We have to be willing to accept everything that happens around us, rather than resist it.

  2. We have to understand that every change, whether it is in our favor or not, is simply the shifting nature of an ever-changing universe. A universe that is neither good nor bad.

  3. We have to understand that without change, we would not be here. It was change that formed planets from gas clouds; it was change that made complex life from more simple forms of life; therefore, it is change that has allowed us to think and feel.

After all of this, we can learn to love the shifting state of the universe and, by extension, learn to love fate.

In the context of pressure, we can learn to embrace the things that fate puts in our way.

After all, they are neither good nor bad; they are just things we have to deal with. Parts of life provide us with ways to grow and develop as individuals and as groups.

To me, one of the greatest benefits of amor fati is how it dissolves the victim mentality.

The victim will look at a situation that isn’t favorable to them and think:

“Why does this always happen to me?”

With Amor Fati, we look at the situation and think:

“The nature of life is change; this is just another change and isn’t personal to me.”

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Rule 2: Embrace Obstacles as Opportunities

The Stoic idea of embracing obstacles is probably most recognizable from the Stoic emperor of Rome. In his journal, now known as Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”

– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.20

This is an important mindset shift that takes us from seeing obstacles as burdens that block our path to seeing them as opportunities for learning, personal development, and building resilience.

When we do this, we remove the negative psychological impact that obstacles can have on our peace of mind.

Real-world application:

In the real world, this “obstacle is the way” mentality can be used for things like missing out on a promotion, a failed relationship, or a project that’s gone wrong.

And, while our first reaction might be frustration or anger, over time we can learn to look at these things and ask ourselves what we can learn from them:

  • Do we need to skill up at work and re-evaluate our skillset?

  • Can we ask for feedback to find out what went wrong and work on it?

  • Do we need to sort out our finances?

  • Can we be a better partner or friend?

To help make this shift, we can practice two things:

  1. Reframing: The next time you find yourself faced with an obstacle, try replacing “Why did this happen to me?”, with “What can I learn from this?” and see how that changes how you feel about the situation.

  2. Gratitude: Not many people will be grateful when faced with hardship. But when we look for things to be thankful for while we’re in a difficult spot, it can change the way we feel about the situation as a whole. If we look for a silver lining, the rest doesn’t seem so bad.

  3. Think about history: It’s always helpful to remember that countless people before us have faced and overcome similar, if not greater, challenges. If they can do it, then it can be done.

Rule 3: Understand That Perceptions Dictate Reality

At the start, we looked at the quote from Epictetus:

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things.”

Our perceptions really do shape our reality. The world does not appear the same to everyone. You and I look at life in very different ways, and the way we look at life will define how we experience it.

To some, life is a struggle, a challenge, a daily war against the people trying to pull them down, the system trying to exploit them, and the changing state of the universe out to get them.

To others, life is beautiful; the human condition allows us to create beauty and see beauty in others. People are inherently good; our culture has pulled many people from disease and poverty; and the universe is a crucible of change and potential.

Both of these people are looking at the same world, but they see something very different from one another.

These differences can be the differences between suffering and peace, hope and despair, and love and hatred.

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

– Wayne Dyer

Imagine two people stuck in traffic. One might think, “What a waste of time! This always happens to me.” The other might think, “Great, I have some extra time to listen to my favorite podcast.” The situation is the same, but their experiences are worlds apart.

So why does this matter?

When we understand that it’s not the events but our interpretation of them that dictates our emotional response, we can accept that our response is our responsibility.

When we realize we’re in control of our perceptions, we can actively shape our experience of the world.

This is done in two ways:

  1. Awareness: Start by recognizing your defaults. The way you naturally look at things. Are they generally positive, negative, or neutral?

  2. Challenge Them: When a negative thought arises, ask yourself, “Is this a fact or just my interpretation?”

  3. Choose a New Lens: With practice, you can actively decide how you want to interpret situations. It’s like swapping out one pair of glasses for another

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Rule 4: Practice Daily Reflection

When was the last time you dedicated a few minutes to reviewing the day?

If you can’t remember, you’re not alone. It’s a pretty unusual thing to do these days, but to the Stoics, it was an important habit for building a feedback loop that made sure the lessons and mistakes of the day were learned from.

Over time, this practice can help us make better decisions, behave in ways that are more aligned with who we want to be, and even reduce anxiety (by actively processing the things that happen to and around us).

This can be built into both a morning routine (more can be found here) and an evening routine (more can be found here).

The Value of Reflection

Every day, we’re exposed to a stream of decisions, experiences, and emotions.

Without processing them, they can pile up, leading to stress, burnout, confusion, and even poor decision-making.

This practice of daily reflection gives us a tool that acts like a mental “debrief,” helping us to reflect and understand why we did what we did that day, why we felt the way we felt, and whether or not our actions were in alignment with our values.

If we’re really honest with ourselves, this practice can be a powerhouse of personal development as we get better and better at recognizing our approach and responses to different situations.

Over time, as we improve in this kind of reflection, we start to see our response in real time as it happens, and this is where the really profound value can lie for many people.

A Tale of Two Days

Imagine two people; let’s call them Alex and Jamie.

After a hard day at work, Alex jumps straight into their evening routine, pushing the day’s frustrations into the back of their minds.

Jamie, on the other hand, decides to take ten minutes to sit quietly and think about the day’s events, their reactions, and potential areas for growth.

Over time, Jamie is likely to exhibit better emotional management and personal growth compared to Alex, all thanks to the power of reflection.

Stoic Reflection as a Routine

I’ll keep this simple because it doesn’t need to be overly complicated.

  1. Set Aside Time: Even just five minutes before bed or during a coffee break can make a big difference. It’s the consistency that’s key.

  2. Ask Questions: Start with basics like, “What went well today?” or “What could I have done differently?” With time, tailor your questions to probe deeper with “Why?” questions.

  3. Write It Down: Keeping your thoughts in a journal can make your reflections sink in. Over time, it also offers a valuable resource to track your thoughts as you grow.

  4. Be Honest, Not Harsh: Reflection is about understanding, not judging. Approach your thoughts and feelings with kindness and curiosity.

The Ripple Effect

The beauty of daily reflection is its cumulative growth.

It’s not necessarily about mind-blowing revelations every day. It’s more about chipping away over time with insights that can lead to deeper personal growth.

It’s a bit like an investment account—you make a regular payment and, over time, the account grows and grows.

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