Do you struggle with change in some areas of your life? Don’t worry, we all do. The good news is that there are ways to go from resistance to acceptance very quickly and, in doing so prevent needless suffering.

Today we’ll be primarily covering Stoicism in relation to:

  1. The common struggles, perceptions, and resistance we often have to change

  2. The different ways change can cause us to suffer

  3. There are three areas of philosophy that will give you a way to improve your relationship with change.

This topic was originally raised by the Orion audience. A little while ago I asked on Instagram what benefits you’d like to get out of philosophy, and many people mentioned that they struggle with dealing with change.

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.”

Marcus Aurelius

It’s our ability to cope with change that makes up a good part of how resilient we are. So the purpose of this article is to build that resilience.

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STOICISM & Accepting Change:

To begin our discussion on change I will start by explaining that change is necessary for existence. Without change we cannot grow, develop, experience, build relationships, form friendships, overcome challenge, suffer, feel pride, love, anger, fear or motivation.

A universe without change would not exist, because change is necessary for the formation of anything and everything.

Almost 2000 years ago The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius wrote:

“Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever.”

Logically I think we all know this, but emotionally we often resist change, and many of us spend a lot of energy and focus trying to avoid its inevitability.

Aurelius also wrote:

Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And can you take a hot bath unless the wood for the fire undergoes a change? And can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see then that for yourself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature?

As he points out, change is necessary for all things. However, while understanding this can go some way to helping is view change in a more productive way, it’s not enough to remove a large portion of our resistance. I’ll explain 3 main tools later on that can help us go further with reducing our resistance.

Change and Suffering:

With regards to our suffering, I believe that we struggle with two areas of change:

The First…

…is that we often suffer in anticipation of change.

The fear of something happening to us or around us that will cause a shift in our life, our norm or our routine. This is often in the form of loss. Loss of a job or loss of a loved one for example.

Anticipation of change can lead to overthinking, doubting our ability to cope or deal with the challenges that come with change, catastrophizing and generally making mountains out of mole hills.

In his book Homo Deus, Yuval Noah Harari writes:

“People are usually afraid of change because they fear the unknown. But the single greatest constant of history is that everything changes.”

The Second…

…is suffering caused by a recent change that has already occurred. Often this is coming to terms with loss, or a feeling of being lost and the chaos that is caused as our lives move from a predictable state of equilibrium into a state of the unknown which has not found it’s balance and may have difficult challenges.

Resistance to Change is Understandable:

Suffering is an understandable reaction. It’s understandable because there is a comfort and safety in a predictable world, in a routine.

Our brain wants to keep its habits and its ability to predict our environment. It takes a lot of time and energy to be aware of everything around us, so a predictable and routine life allows us to be much more efficient and helps to reduce stress.

When this routine is threatened it also threatens us with the unknown, the risk that our routine will fall apart, and the world that has become comfortably predictable be replaced with one full of new challenges requiring us to get used to a new balance. The anticipation of this can cause some uncomfortable questions:

What if we can’t deal with the new situation? What if it causes me to suffer? What if I fail at a new job? What if new people don’t like me? What if they break up with me, what will I do? What if I lose money? What if, what if, what if……

Again, it’s understandable that the common reaction to change is resistance. However, as long as we are resisting life we cannot begin to accept it, and only with acceptance can we have a peaceful mind.

Acceptance is key and is one of the 3 areas we’ll focus on later. If we learn to accept change as an intrinsic part of nature and take responsibility to face it and the challenges it brings, we can dramatically improve our resilience to it. I’ll talk in more detail about this later.

Marcus Aurelius also wrote:

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight.”

For me this contains two important insights.

  1. Change is nature’s delight, explains that the change is stitched into the fabric of existence, we cannot experience without change, our world would not exist without it. It is the nature of the universe, whoever we are, wherever we live, our life will walk hand in hand with change.

    Sometimes change is favourable and sometimes it is not, but without it we would have nothing and I think most of us would agree that a life with ups and downs is preferable to no life at all.

  2. The second interesting point Aurelius makes is that “loss is nothing else but change”. In itself loss is not good or bad, our perception of it determines its goodness or badness, and the suffering we experience is merely our inability to accept change and face it’s challenges.

On a similar note, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus said:

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

And drawing again from the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius, he wrote:

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

Both of these ancient thinkers talk of the same thing; In order to reduce our suffering and develop our resilience to the world, we must first accept that our perceptions of things cause us to suffer, not the things themselves. And secondly we must take responsibility to develop more constructive perceptions.

The next section will focus on three practical areas of our mind that I believe can help us reduce suffering in all areas of our lives, but for this episode I will focus on the subject of change.

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Epictetus & The Dichotomy of Control:

In general, people enjoy control. We like a certain level of understanding and influence on our environment. Through control we find comfort. After all, if we have full control over our environment we have the ability to eliminate threats, challenges and discomfort.

However most control is an illusion. We often imagine we have far more control than we really do, we imagine this because it makes us feel comfortable, but the deeper the illusion of control, the more we suffer when we are shown it is a lie, and control is taken from us.

In reality we only control two things, our thoughts and our actions. That’s it. Everything else can be lost, taken, changed against our will, or resistant.

The great Stoic Epictetus once said:

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions.Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions.”

He also said the following:

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .”

Being able to make this distinction is core to building resilience. Change is no different. There will be changes in our life that we have no control over. There will be challenges that come our way that we cannot stop. In these conditions we must accept what is outside our control and take responsibility for what we can.

The Story of Agrippinus the Stoic:

A good example of this is the story told by Epictetus about the Stoic philosopher Paconius Agrippinus who lived as a statesman during the reign of the Tyrant Emperor Nero in the middle of the 1st century AD.

Agrippinus was a member of the Stoic Opposition, a group of Stoic Philosophers who opposed the rule of Emperors who showed poor leadership or tyrannical behaviour. A man came to Agrippinus to tell him that he was on trial in the Senate.

“Your case is being tried in the Senate.” The man said.

“Good luck betide! But it is the fifth hour now” (he was in the habit of taking his exercise and then a cold bath at that hour); “let us be off and take our exercise.”

After he had finished his exercise someone came and told him,

“You have been condemned.”

“To exile,” says he, “or to death?”

“To exile.”

“What about my property?”

“It has not been confiscated.”

“Well then, let us go to Aricia and take our lunch there.”

Epictetus Writes:

“This is what it means to have rehearsed the lessons one ought to rehearse, to have set desire and aversion free from every hindrance and made them proof against chance.  I must die. If forthwith, I die; and if a little later, I will take lunch now, since the hour for lunch has come, and afterwards I will die at the appointed time.

This is an example that Epictetus used to teach his students about accepting what we have no control over and taking responsibility for what we can.

Agrippinus accepted his fate set by the Senate, the decision was made and beyond his control. And after finding out he still had his property he accepted his exile and went to enjoy lunch away from his home where he was no longer welcome.


I think there’s benefit in thinking that the world does not care about what we expect of it. The universe does not rearrange itself solely based on our thoughts and feelings and we should not expect it to.

Things will happen as they do, not as we expect.

A fair amount of suffering can come from expecting the world to be certain way and not having those expectations met. The further away from reality our expectations are and the stronger they are, the more we will suffer.

For this reason I believe it’s important to study and examine what you expect from the world, and whether you think your expectations are reasonable or unreasonable.

For example, people will act in ways we do not agree with. If we expect everyone to act in accordance with how we believe people should act, we will suffer as our expectations are not met over and over again.

However, if we believe that there is a huge variation between people and that this variation will create a wide range of behaviours, we will then expect people to act in ways we may not agree with, but we can accept it because we expect a wide variety of behaviour.

This means the resistance we have to these people is reduced because we have a more realistic expectation. We become more accepting.

Expectation is important to consider in all areas of our life, what do we expect from the world, what do we expect from each other, what do we expect from ourselves. When we expect too much we risk becoming entitled. Childish and spoilt. When we expect too little we sacrifice our boundaries and become apathetic.

In the context of change we can begin to think about what we expect of it. Do we expect change to be a natural part of life that we must face with responsibility? Or do we expect life to be fair and free from challenges?

Whatever our expectations are, they will influence the level of frustration, resistance and suffering we experience from change.


Acceptance underlies both control and expectation.

In accepting the things in life that we cannot control, we prevent ourselves from the suffering that comes with focusing our time and energy on things that we cannot change or influence. This allows us to better use our time on what we can influence and helps us deal with change and the challenges that come with it.

Similarly, accepting that our unrealistic expectations can cause us suffering can lead us to think seriously about what we expect from other people and the world around us, and in doing so we create more realistic expectations.

On the subject of change, acceptance that change is a natural part of our lives and that adversity can come with it, removes some of the resistance that is caused when we spend our time in anticipation or avoidance.

Final Thoughts:

We can use the concepts of control, expectation and acceptance to change how we perceive the world and become far more resilient to its hardships and challenges. But this is not a quick fix, it requires us to take responsibility to develop, and to use introspection to first see how we view each area, out thoughts, beliefs and values, and then think about what we can do to move forward.

To end I’ll leave you with a final quote from Epictetus:

“Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever.”

We are part of a cycle, and the nature of cycle is change. We can resist change as it threatens to unearth our comfortable, routine lives. Or we can learn to accept it as a natural part of our existence and become resilient in the face if it’s adversity. We are only able to walk down one of these paths and it is our responsibility to decide which.

Amor Fati

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