Developing a Stoic mindset is all about perception. How you see things is fundamental for your well-being. Stoicism and Stoic philosophy can help us change the way we perceive the world to live happier, more positive, and more resilient lives.

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

Marcus Aurelius

What is perception?

Simply put, your perception is what you see in any given situation, or “the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted” (thanks dictionary).

However, it’s not as simple as that, because what we see isn’t necessarily a true reflection of reality, and we don’t all see the same things in the same way.

I’ll use dogs as a simple example:

Susan grew up in the bustle and pace of city life. When she was 10 years old, she travelled on a rickety old train to see her grandmother in the quiet of the countryside. While visiting her Nan, she was attacked and bitten by the elderly woman’s dog before they could be separated.

Brian, on the other hand, grew up in the Scottish Highlands; his family were sheep farmers, and he was always surrounded by animals. His favourites were the dogs that kept him company when his parents were working.

Today, Brian and Susan are happily married. Recently, on a walk, they came across a shaggy brown dog off its leash, its tongue was out, and it was panting. Susan instantly became terrified and paralysed with fear. Brian, on the other hand, saw a companion and responded with warmth and affection.

These two responses are very different. Both Brian and Susan looked at the same thing, but what they perceived was completely different.

A Stoic Mindset and Your Response:

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor Frankl

The Stoics believed that the way in which you respond to the world is your responsibility. They propose that most of the time, your response to any given situation is a choice. At any moment, you have the ability to choose one response over another.

(Sometimes a strong, instinctive emotion like fear is a reasonable response – Click Here to read more.)

Response flows are as follows:

  1. Stimulus: You experience something. This could be from the world around you, its people, or even the thoughts you have internally. This is the dog.

  2. Perception: This stimulus is processed by your mind. Your thoughts, beliefs, and values all influence how you see what’s in front of you, what you see in it, and what it means to you. These are the perceptions about the dog built from experience.

  3. Response: You respond, often unconsciously and often as a direct result of your beliefs. This is Susan’s fear and her actions based on that fear, or Brian’s warmth and subsequent actions.

It’s important to consider that your response is determined by your perception, and your perceptions is influenced by your beliefs. Over time, if left unchecked, negative or destructive beliefs can begin to root themselves in your mind, like the weeds that choke a garden.

To address this, every few months I like to take some time to reflect on the way I see the world. As the ancient Stoics instruct; you have the ability to change your beliefs, and in doing so, you develop the ability to see the world in different ways.

When we change what we believe about a thing, we change our response to it. In this way, we can change our lives for the better, respond more constructively, and reduce the negative impact of situations that would normally cause us stress or suffering.

Here are four areas I like to focus on:

4 Stoic Changes for a Resilient Mindset:

I’ll use these as examples, but don’t feel like you need to limit yourself to these four; apply them to as many areas of life as you like; the more, the better.

1. Gratitude Over Lack

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”


Gratitude is promoted everywhere from Stoicism to Buddhism as a way to live a happier and more resilient life. And for good reason. It is a simple shift in our focus that can eliminate the feeling that we don’t have what we want, or our life is lacking something.

Imagine that you have been robbed of absolutely everything you have. You will miss a lot of that stuff, most of which you are taking for granted right now.

Gratitude breaks the cycle of needing, wanting, buying. It can even eliminate envy and jealousy. If we’re grateful for what we have, we simply don’t desire as much. We feel more content, and happier.

An easy example is the screen on which you’re reading this. There are people without phones or computers, and if yours was taken away you’d miss it. Deeper still is the ability to read. You’re part of a society that’s provided you with the tools for literature.

Every day we use things that we would miss if they were taken from us, or things that other people wish they had. Simple things like water, eyesight, health, food, heating, a family, a job, clean clothes, shampoo etc.

Try and pay more attention to the things you have rather than the things you lack. Modern marketing’s job is to make us believe we need things, but in reality we already have most of what we need. More stuff doesn’t make us happier, more appreciation does.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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2. Opportunity Over OBstruction

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

Marcus Aurelius

I love the quote above – what stands in the way becomes the way.

We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can decide how we react to it. When you’re met with hardship, you can complain or you can look for a way to improve the situation. The way through hardship is now the new path. What stands in the way becomes the way.

Seeing opportunity in adversity is what will make you stand out as resilient, reliable, and insurmountable.

Look to perceive opportunity in adversity and you will never be held down, you will reduce the suffering caused by the situation, and you will build resilience.

3. Responsibility Over Blame

You’ve found yourself in a tough spot. Here are two ways you could handle it:

  1. You blame someone of something else for your situation. It’s their fault your struggling right now. How dare they. You’re in a bad mood and you validate this mood because you think you have the right to be angry. They made you angry.

  2. You accept your situation for what it is. You may not be responsible for everything that has happened, but you are responsible for how you respond. You are responsible for what you perceive at this moment. You look to see what is within your control and you accept what is not. Once the distinction is made, you leverage what is within your control to make the situation better. You could be annoyed at life or the world, but guess what? Your reaction is your responsibility.

Those two examples are extreme. However I think it makes a point.

Whenever you blame, you are handing over control of your well-being to someone other than yourself. You’re getting into the passenger seat of your emotions and giving the wheel to someone or something else, letting them drive you wherever they like.

There will always be valid contributors to bad mood, but we still need to own our situation, figure out what’s what, and come up with a solution. This is true for our well-being.

Blame is more often than not counterproductive, negative, and distracting. In the vast majority of situations, the solution requires thinking in the present moment. Blame pushes you back into the past.

4. Compassion Over Judgement

When you and I were born, we were a blank canvas.

As we grew we soaked up information and learned to recognise shapes, colours, emotions, language and people. At the same time our brain was busy stitching everything together into a map of interconnected relationships, comparisons and patterns.

We become shaped by our environment, by our parents, friends, teachers, schools, places we travel to, the books we read, the music we listen to, and the films we watch. Both of us are a product of what we’ve experienced.

Given that this is true, we will be two very different people because there is such a wide variety of conditions in which to live. This variety has a number of benefits. It also has a number of risks.

Unfortunately, not everyone grows up in constructive environments, many people experience hardship to different degrees. Many people grow up poor, in violence, without guidance or without good role models.

Some of us face hardship early in life, and some people go through life with almost no hardship at all. Both of these conditions have their issues.

If we are, in part, defined by our experience then in trying to understand the experience of others we can start on a path to become more compassionate to one another.

The behaviour of other people becomes far more understandable once we become aware of what they’ve been through up until that point.

Amor Fati.

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