A few years ago, I remember sitting in an old pub in England with a couple of friends. We were talking about stress, work, and what people can do to help manage a busy life and demanding jobs.

I suggested Stoic philosophy. It’s worked for me, and I thought it could work for a lot of other people as well.

“Stoicism? Isn’t that just shutting off your emotions? It seems a bit cold to me.” Said one of my friends, raising a cold , amber pint to his lips.

My friend had pointed out a common misconception with stoic philosophy. If you Google the word “stoic”, you’ll find the following definition:

“A person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining”

It’s true that Stoicism helps people endure hardships without complaining; however, the methods they use to do this are often misunderstood.

The view that a Stoic person follows the path of a hard, cold philosophy is often formed from the belief that Stoics shut off their emotions to external influences. The belief that Stoics don’t respond simply because they don’t feel. This is not the case, as we’re about to see.

What is a Stoic?

Simply described, a Stoic is a person who adheres to Stoic philosophy, a way of life that has its roots in classical Greece and Rome. The Stoics advocated avoiding unpleasant emotions like anger, fear, and worry in favour of leading a life that is motivated by reason, restraint, and virtue.

According to the stoics, we have no influence over external circumstances, but we do have power over how we respond to them. Instead of getting mired in concerns about the past or the future, they encourage us to concentrate on the now, accept things as they are, and move forward with a focus on what we can control.

The value of building a solid moral character and upholding our principles is another point stressed by stoicism. This includes developing discipline, doing our best to look at life objectively, being kind and respectful to others, being trustworthy and honest, and aiming for excellence in all facets of our lives.

Despite what the word “stoic” may mean today, as a philosophy, Stoicism doesn’t include repressing feelings or being emotionless and distant. In the face of difficulty, it’s about developing the tools to feel inner calm and contentment. It’s about cultivating resilience and adaptability, as well as discovering joy in life’s small pleasures.

Living a life of reason, virtue, and inner tranquility is what it means to be a Stoic. Although the philosophy has been around for thousands of years, its principles and ideals are still useful and appropriate today.

How To be more Stoic?

These days Stoicism helps us deal with hardship because it provides up with a framework to lessen suffering, guide action, and find harmony through acceptance. In reality, Stoic philosophy is about living a happy, fulfilled life, not a cold, unfeeling one:

A few ways that stoic philosophy achieves this are:

  1. It helps us clarify what we can control, and accept what we cannot

  2. It gives us a framework for virtue and living a good life

  3. It teaches us to accept life the way it is, and not suffer because our expectations of life are not being met.

  4. It frames death in a way that adds vibrancy to life, rather than anxiety.

Not only does stoicism help us deal with our own lives, it also helps us develop our relationships with others, and with our community.

Stoicism and Control:

“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…”
– Epictetus

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus left us with something called the Dichotomy of Control, which is actually reasonably simple to understand.

There are things in life that we can control and those that we cannot. For the Stoics, one of the most important components of a good and happy life is our ability to concentrate our efforts and attention on the variables we can influence and let go of, and accept, the variables we have no control over.

So what do we have control over? The Stoics believed that we had control over our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. We have the power to make sensible decisions, respond to events with composure and restraint, and act in a way that aligns with our values and principles.

At the same time, there are a lot of things we have no control over, including some aspects of our own physical health, the weather, and other people’s behaviour. Being irritated or worried about these things, according to the Stoics, is unproductive and detrimental to our mental and physical health.

The Stoics thought that even in the midst of difficult circumstances, we can find inner peace and calm by concentrating on what we can control and accepting what we cannot.

Hence, the Stoic dichotomy of control is all about putting our attention on what we can control and letting go of what we are unable to. It’s a straightforward but effective idea that can make life more balanced and satisfying for us.

Within our control are:

  • Our beliefs

  • Our values

  • Our actions/ responses

  • Our thoughts

Outside our control is almost everything else:

  • Other people

  • The weather

  • The economy

  • Politics

  • Our reputation

  • Our body (it will age, degrade etc)

“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. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.”

– Epictetus

Stoicism and Virtue:

Not only did the Stoics reduce suffering through changes in their perception and mindset, but they also believed that the path to a good life (which the Stoics called eudaimonia), was found through correct and virtuous action.

The 4 Stoic virtues are:

  1. Courage: To do what is right despite forces that may act against you or tempt you otherwise.

  2. Temperance: To act with restraint regarding the things in life that can draw us in and create addiction, dependence, and over indulgence.

  3. Wisdom: To be able to the determine good from bad, look at things objectively and see them for what they are, rather than what we wish them to be, or clouded by our assumptions or judgement.

  4. Justice: To act well towards others, and do what is right for the good of the whole, the community, and those who may need help.

“Seek not the good in external things; seek it in yourselves.”
― Epictetus

Stoic Acceptance:

Modern Stoicism also promotes acceptance, which is particularly important today. With all of the information, distraction, opinion and “justice” we’re surrounded with, it can be very difficult to learn to accept the world for what it is.

Culturally we tend to expect the world to bend for us, which of course it will not, and people end up suffering as a result because they’re expectations have not been met.

“Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.”

― Epictetus

Coupled with the dichotomy of control, there are many things in life that we cannot do anything about. In these cases we must learn to accept this as a reality, and move forward applying ourselves to the areas of life we can control.

This does two things:

  1. We become happier through acceptance – we stop wasting our emotional energy and time on things that won’t change, regardless of how much we suffer.

  2. We become more effective – we take the time that would normally be spent complaining about the world, or being a victim, and we redirect it to things we can influence.

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