Short, practical tips on following virtue today and everyday
How do you practice Stoicism?
Do you adopt it as your philosophy of life and use it to guide your every thought and action?
Do you dip in and out of its practical exercises semi-regularly?
Maybe you’ve lapsed somewhat in your commitment to live an examined life and are finding it difficult to get back on track.
Or perhaps you’ve never practiced Stoicism before and are trying to find out more.
Wherever you’re sitting currently in your philosophical practice, one thing is certain: you aren’t perfect.
It’s certain because — as the ancient Stoics believed — no one is, or ever will be for that matter, perfect.
The idea of the wise sage was an ideal they held up as something to strive toward but which could never realistically be achieved.
The Stoic student’s responsibility was therefore to get a little better each day. Through repeated practice, to get a little closer to the level of wisdom of the sage.
As such, even the simplest Stoic reminders are of value to the most experienced of practitioners as they reinforce the repetition required to realize the benefits of practical philosophy.
Here are 30 ways to instantly be more Stoic. Maybe one will be enough to refocus you today, or maybe you’ll decide to try one a day for the next month to get back into a Stoic rhythm. Whatever you take from this, remember to keep practicing!
- Do someone a kindness. The ancient Stoics believed that we exist for the sake of one another; we were born to work together. Not only do kind acts help others, they help us too. As Seneca wrote, no material reward is required: the wages of a good deed is to have done it.
- Reframe a problem as a challenge. It’s not so much what happens to us that determines our peace of mind but how we react to it. By treating setbacks as tests, by changing how we think about adversity, we can change how we deal with it.
- Ask “Is this necessary?” As Marcus Aurelius put it, most of what we say and do isn’t essential. We waste valuable time on frivolous things when we could be pursuing what gives us purpose. With every action you take today, ask yourself if it’s necessary.
- Understand what depends on you. The chief task in life, according to Epictetus, is to separate what is within our control from what isn’t. You control your opinions, intentions, desires, and whatever is your own doing. Ensure most of your focus remains on making good choices in those areas.
- Examine judgments. It’s the classic Stoic precept: it isn’t things, events, and people that disturb us, it’s our judgments about them. When a judgment quickly arises, objectively put it to the test and determine its accuracy.
- Face a fear. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it’s acting despite fear. Facing fears, a little at a time so as not to get overwhelmed, provides a sense of purpose in the short term. In the long term, it reduces the amount of things you are afraid of.
- Say less, listen more, do more. Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, said we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Epictetus said we shouldn’t be constantly talking about the kind of people we are, we should be showing our character through our actions. Can you listen more than you speak today? Can you show people who you are rather than tell them?
- Align your words and actions. You may be saying less and doing more as per the previous point, but your good character is only proven if those two are always in harmony.
- Let go of a past regret. Freedom from rumination on a past event can come when you resolve to learn the embedded lessons from it. When it comes to the past, you have the power to change the story you’ve been telling yourself about it.
- Plan for the future. Plan for what you can, but remember this to avoid obsessing: some bridges can be crossed when you come to them. The ability to tackle unexpected difficulties with a calm mind can be as valuable as good preparation.
- Count your blessings. This classic cliché is the simplest of gratitude exercises, but when was the last time you actually did it?
- Forego a pleasure. From the Roman Stoic Musonius Rufus: if you accomplish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures.
- Improve a little. The Stoic commits to being a student of life, for life. As long as they live, they keep learning how to live. A better version of yourself is better equipped to improve both your life and the lives of others.
- Remember you will die. Death will come. What else is there to do in the meantime than to be grateful and make the most — really make the most — of the fact that it hasn’t come yet?
- Reject perfection. It might seem like it sometimes, but no one has it all figured out. Everyone makes mistakes. All you can do is try your best to make as few as possible and to learn from the ones you do make.
- Live in the present. The past concerns you no more. The future concerns you not yet. Embrace now, which is often much more bearable than the pain we’re trying to run away from.
- Treat today as a new life. To begin to live, wrote Seneca, count each day as a separate life. Restart daily and fit in all those meaningful things that will leave you fulfilled at the end of it.
- Protect your character. You can cultivate good character by being consistently good. Your character is yours, other people’s character and actions are theirs. You can only be harmed if you allow your character to be harmed.
- Cut out bad people. Keep company with those who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best. If they don’t support your development, if their behavior impacts you negatively, you don’t need them.
- Read. Books are the training weights of the mind. Without an understanding of the theory, there is nothing to inform a philosophical practice.
- Be rational about what others think. If you believe in something, if it’s the right thing to do, do it. What others will say shouldn’t matter. And anyhow, most people are far more concerned with what they’re doing than what you are.
- Embrace emotion. The emotional goal of a Stoic is not to be unfeeling like a statue. It is to care for their relationships, to be moved by the fleeting beauty of life, to feel tranquility of mind, and to experience the joy in living.
- Stop postponing. In trying to master tomorrow, we lose today. Procrastination postpones happiness. What small step can you take today toward the life you’ve always wanted?
- Expect Fate. Fate visits when it sees fit. To free yourself from its grip, expect its arrival, accept the hand it deals, and adapt to its consequences.
- When feeling frustrated, pause. The greatest remedy for anger, wrote Seneca, is delay. Remember that instinctive feelings don’t need to guide your actions. A short pause before reacting can work wonders.
- Love what happens. Whatever happens, assume that it was bound to happen. This is not an attitude of passivity, but one of accepting those things that can’t be changed so you can focus on the things that can.
- Be a friend to yourself. Like a best friend would, demand the best for yourself. Support yourself. Be strict with yourself without ever being abusive. Review your mistakes but forgive yourself. Make the good choices today that you’ll thank yourself for tomorrow.
- Take a walk. Breaks are essential for the mind to regain its sharpness. Seneca advised talking walks to refresh and raise our spirits.
- Don’t add a second story to suffering. We exaggerate problems or imagine them where none exist. Remove emotional language and complaints about today’s issues to peel away the unnecessary extra layers of disturbance.
- Be good. As the Stoics believed, virtue is the only good. To be good, we need to do good. This means using wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation to guide our actions. And it means practicing every day.
As Seneca wrote:
Nature does not bestow virtue; it is an art to become good.