Daniel Vargas is the creator and host of the Stoic Sage podcast, where he focuses on using past knowledge to empower people of today.
The podcast series discusses modern challenges using Stoic wisdom from nearly 2,000 years ago. The goal is to help guide people on “how to think” rather than telling them “what to think”.
It was great to be able to interview Daniel recently. His answers, which you can find below, include some useful advice on what it means to improve how we think.
You can find Daniel online here:
Can you explain a little about how you got started with Stoicism and how it has changed you since then?
I remember watching YouTube videos with my fiance and came across a 5 minute TedEd video about the philosophy of Stoicism. I was instantly hooked, and not just because the animation was captivating! I had heard the “Stoic” term passed around in passing, at one point being called Stoic a few times in my life before understanding what it is. It was a click that changed me forever as I excitedly dived into the Stoic rabbit hole. At the time I was hitting my “quarter life crisis” thinking, “why am I still dissatisfied, is this what life is like? What am I destined for?”
In a way, Stoicism did not answer these questions but it helped me understand that the meanings behind it all is how I choose to interact in my life and in the world around me. The meaning, therefore, is created not found, and in that creation I began to see the struggle that I was destined for and the peace I need to create internally as I walk through the valley of chaos. Since then, I have become more aware of the things I do and why I do them, realizing the impact of the steps I choose to take in life and the consequences that I am fated to experience. I have become a better friend to myself; controlling the ego, controlling the desire, and maintaining tranquility when faced with daily adversity.
The tagline for the Stoic Sage Podcast is “helping people how to think rather than what to think.”
Why is that an important distinction, especially in today’s environment and what are the key stages of learning/relearning how to think?
In the modern world we learn so much so quickly and absorb more information in a day than the great Stoics did in an entire lifetime. That being said, it can be easy to get caught up in being told facts or taking information at face value without looking at it with a critical mind. When we are just absorbing without filtering or adding critical thought, we are essentially being told what to think. The problem with this mindset is that you will find yourself in a constant state of cognitive dissonance because information and facts are always changing, updating and/or being skewed. Learning becomes a pain and people no longer trust anyone, resulting in people sticking with what they believe to be true with little regard for what is and/or could be.
Learning how to think will keep the mind open to new knowledge and wisdom and eventually benefit everyone you come across! The importance of “how to think” helps people grapple with the realities of oneself and reality of the world and humanity. Nearly all of the greatest philosophers have constantly stated that the world is to be questioned and put on trial against logic and reason; only then will we be able to get closer to the truth. In some cases we will find that multiple things can be true at once! How to think is an important skill to build because it prevents us from being told what to think and potentially becoming pawns of someone else’s game. On an individual level, it also helps us take control of our decisions in the present moment that impact the future.
The key to helping someone learn/relearn “how to think” is to first and foremost remain indifferent to the world around you. Everything you see and hear is neither good, nor bad. Neither truth or a lie. It’s just that, information. The second thing to remember is to moderate yourself with everything you see and hear; don’t act out in emotional extremes, and don’t take the information at face value; test those things with what you have previously seen or heard and put them on trial against logic and reason. The final piece of advice would be, let go of your ego. The truth, the facts, what is logical, all care very little about your emotions; but you should see truths and corrections of previously true information as gifts to becoming wiser. Understand that being wrong and relearning is completely fine! No one person, no one group, has all the answers and they too could have been wrong.
As someone bringing ancient wisdom to a modern audience, how much room for evolution is there with Stoicism – how do you see the philosophy changing as its popularity (seemingly) increases?
Stoicism not only helps us deal with our responses to outside events, but it also helps reveal us to ourselves. This is where I see the evolution of Stoicism taking place. It’s a great philosophy to live by with regards to how to handle those things that are outside of our control and focus on the things that are within our control. However, as many Stoics would say, we are creatures of habit. Understanding why we do the things we do is so incredibly important and with more knowledge about human psychology, development, and sociology, there are few excuses out there that prevent us from becoming the best versions of ourselves.
We know that over half of who we are comes from our parents and our environment. The remaining is up to how we respond with the habits that we have been taught as children. For example, you can’t remain indifferent to your significant other’s concerns over the relationship regarding intimacy, especially if you know that as a child you didn’t receive physical touch as a form of love and care. This potentially results in your lack of need for physical intimacy with your partner. The root should reveal the things you need to deal with!
The first step to becoming excellent in the form of habit is to first understand the existing habit and its root. What I seek to do is teach people how to reveal them to themselves in a very critical manner. Our egos are our biggest obstacles, we would love to think we have no hang ups about our upbringing or we push the emotions away with the proclamation, “I must remain indifferent to the past, I cannot change it”. While true, this mindset helps in the meantime, but the habit created and reason for you being who you are today are still being impacted by your past. We as Stoics owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to address our pasts with a critical mind and know us for what we truly are. I have hope that this journey continues to evolve to teach people how to deal with their internal world, not just how to properly respond to the outside world.
What are your favorite modern Stoic resources? (e.g. podcasts, books, blogs, social media)
For starters, the best book to get started (and reread multiple times) with Stoicism is “How to think like a Roman Emperor” by Donald Robertson. “Meditations” is great but it’s not a breakdown of how to utilize Stoicism, whereas “How to Think like a Roman Emperor” takes “Meditations” and breaks down the mindset of a practicing Stoic to fully understand Stoic Philosophy.
A blog that I constantly refer to for a deeper understanding of Stoic philosophy is “How to be a Stoic.com” by Massimo Pigliucci. He also happens to have a Podcast “Stoic Meditations”. As for social media, I enjoy people who offer great knowledge that embody Stoicism, not just preach it. Jocko Willink and Jordan Peterson are my go-to individuals who understand that disciplining the mind is a core practice of Stoicism. Taking extreme ownership of one’s life and dealing with the impact that we sometimes bring upon ourselves, and focusing on ourselves, at the individual level, to build a great society.
Do you have a daily Stoic routine or specific Stoic exercises you practice regularly?
I have a number of Stoic exercises! I journal regularly as it’s extremely important to reflect on our actions and reactions. Circumstantial mantras such as “Memento Mori”, I use this to remind myself to stay in the moment and push past fear, anxiousness, and laziness. Amor Fati; many things happen that are outside of our control and reminding yourself that some things are fated to happen so you should love events as they come, not how you wish them to come.
I also place myself in positions of voluntary discomfort to train the mind and body to handle life’s difficulties. Cold showers for the win! Lastly, wisdom is nothing if not put into action, when I learn something new about myself or a general fact/opportunity, I ask “does this benefit me?” Then I do what is necessary to either implement or rid myself of what I learned. A simple Google search goes a long way with how to do that!
What’s next for the Stoic Sage – do you have plans for additional material to complement the podcast, blog, and Instagram page?
Indeed I do! The podcast has 2 episodes a week with an additional exclusive episode that is a bit unfiltered, just as the ancient Stoics were with their opinions. I have a merch store for the podcast with more stuff to come. I plan on releasing 2 e-books this year (2022), one will deal with applying Stoic principles to exercise and fitness. The other deals with How to be Stoic in All Relationships: with oneself, friends, loved ones and the world around you. Stoic Sage also has a blog, Instagram, and TikTok! There are more things to come in the Stoic Sage roadmap but you’ll have to keep up to find out!
Finally, the question I ask all interview guests – in terms of what the philosophy means to you, What is Stoicism?
Stoicism is a lifestyle that provides the tools that are necessary to create your own life’s meaning! Through virtue, understanding of the reality of the world and your interaction within it, you can find peace in the things that are not within your control.