The Art of Stoic Perception

It’s all in how you perceive it. You’re in control.
-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Part 1: Master Your Perception

1. Do not be fooled by impressions — uncover the truth beneath the surface.

2. Focus on what is in your control — do not concern yourself with the rest.

3. Welcome all that happens with a noble spirit: the course of nature is unalterable.

4. Contemplate the scale of your life — humility declutters the mind.
 

Part 2: Fortify Your Mind

5. Visualize negative outcomes, and nothing that happens will shock you.

6. Train for hardship, and no situation will overpower you.

7. Practice living with little — want what you already have.

8. Consider external things borrowed, not owned — accepting that they must be returned.

9. Reflect on the nature of death — don't be fooled by its reputation.

 

Part 3: Conquer Adversity

10. Turn adversity into an advantage — only hardship breeds triumph.

11. Balance your perspective: contrast situations with their extremes.

12. Do not blame events for your frustrations — blame your expectations.

13. Conquer pain and sickness: suffering is an opportunity for heroism.

14. Remind yourself that all is familiar — nothing in life is foreign or new.

 

Part 4: Love (and Endure) Humankind

15. Love humankind — we are in this together.

16. Forgive the wrongs of others — they err do so because they do not know better.

17. Counter envy with reason — satisfaction can only be found within.

18. Inspire others through action — no one likes a lecture.

 

Part 5: Act with Purpose

19. Remember your duty as a human — to live as your nature demands.

20. Make no random actions — nature has made no promise of tomorrow.

21. Banish the nonessential — pruning the many makes the few strong.

22. Do not expect wealth and fame — let rewards be a pleasant surprise.

23. Strive for moderation — tranquility resides in balance.

24. Do not rest on the laurels of the past — always strive for truth.

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Part 1

Master Your Perception

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Technique 1

Do not be fooled by impressions — uncover the truth beneath the surface.

Can you remember the last time you were watching the news as a tragedy unfolded before you? How did you react? You were probably overwhelmed with emotion. Feelings of sadness or anger began filling your mind. You allowed emotions to define the situation and control your reaction. These emotional responses are unavoidable — an integral part of your biology.

But the Stoics taught us that we have the power to override these emotional knee-jerks with logical thinking. Like seeing the finest wine as no more than rotten grapes, we can strip away the false appearances of events and lay them bare, viewing them objectively. Only then can we choose the proper reaction.

You have the power at every moment to pause, take a deep breath, and acknowledge your emotional response. Separate the event from your reaction, reminding yourself: I have it in my power to control my reaction of this event. That bad thing happened? Yes, but this impressions is outside me, emotionless unless I decide otherwise.
 

Words of Wisdom

If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Things stand outside of us, themselves by themselves, neither knowing anything of themselves nor expressing any judgment.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Don’t let the force of the impression when first it hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it, ‘Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.’

-Epictetus, Discourses


“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage [wine] is grape juice… perceptions like that — latching onto things and piercing through them, to see what they really are… to strip away the legend that encrusts them.”

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Technique 2

Focus on what is in your control — do not concern yourself with the rest.

If you woke up tomorrow and it was raining though the forecast called for sun, would you be upset? Would you be angry that the forecaster was wrong? Irritated at the sun for failing to break through the clouds?

Much of life is in fact no more under control than the weather, such as other people’s actions, opinions, and events we view as happening to us. Instead of worrying, we should accept with equanimity what we cannot change, and instead focus our time and energy on what is in our power — our thoughts and actions.

You might work out and eat well each day, undoubtedly improving your health. But disease could still unexpectedly take hold.

At all times try to focus on what is in your control. By doing so, we enable ourselves to make the most of every situation and more efficiently progress towards our goals.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

We should always be asking ourselves: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?”

-Epictetus, Enchiridion
 

Define for me now what the “indifferents” are. Whatever things we cannot control. Tell me the upshot. They are nothing to me.

-Epictetus, Enchiridion
 

It’s something like going on an ocean voyage. What can I do? Pick the captain, the boat, the date, and the best time to sail. But then a storm hits… What are my options? I do the only thing I am in a position to do, drown — but fearlessly, without bawling or crying out to God, because I know that what is born must also die.

-Epictetus, Discourses
 

Take a lyre player: he’s relaxed when he performs alone, but put him in front of an audience, and it’s a different story, no matter how beautiful his voice or how well he plays the instrument. Why? Because he not only wants to perform well, he wants to be well received — and the latter lies outside his control.

-Epictetus, Discourses

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Technique 3

Welcome all that happens with a noble spirit: the course of nature is unalterable.

Life seems to throw a great deal at us. Though our perceptions and actions may be in our power, the situations we face in life presents rarely are. We are only threads in the ever-changing cosmic fabric.

Meet life’s challenges head on. Don’t struggle against the inevitable or unavoidable. Instead look opportunities in every moment to exercise your Stoic virtues and strength.

Epictetus tells the story of Agrippinus, who was preparing for lunch, when “a messenger arrived from Rome announcing that [Emperor] Nero had sentenced him to exile [to Aricia]. Unflustered he replied, ‘Then why don’t we just move our lunch to Aricia.”

Words of Wisdom

Let us meet with bravery whatever may befall us. Let us never feel a shudder at the thought of being wounded or of being made a prisoner, or of poverty or persecution.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Floods will rob us of one thing, fire of another. These are conditions of our existence which we cannot change. What we can do is adopt a noble spirit, such a spirit as befits a good person, so that we may bear up bravely under all that fortune sends us and bring our wills into tune with nature’s.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Fate leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. The twining strands of fate wove both of them together.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Technique 4

Contemplate the scale of your life — humility declutters the mind.

All too often we can get swept up in the motions of life. As we move between school, work, and family, we forget how much exists beyond our tiny sphere of experiences.

Take a moment and reflect on your life. Feel where you are — now slowly move outward, visualizing your street, then your city. Expand further to your country, then the world, and then the cosmos.

Now return to the difficulties you face in your life. Do they still consume you as they did before, so seemingly omnipresent? Find peace and humility in the realization that the scale of your problems are of little concern to the cosmos — that what weighs you down its much lighter than you imagine.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

Plato has a fine saying, that he who would discourse of man should survey, as from some high watchtower, the things of earth.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Remember: Matter. How tiny your share of it. Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it. Fate. How small a role you play in it.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

You can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind…and clear out space for yourself… by comprehending the scale of the world… by contemplating infinite time… by thinking of the speed with which things change — each part of every thing; the narrow space between our birth and death; the infinite time before; the equally unbounded time that follows.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Asia and Europe: distant recesses of the universe. The ocean: a drop of water. Mount Athos: a molehill. The present: a split second in eternity. Minuscule, transitory, insignificant.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Part 2

Fortify Your Mind

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Technique 5

Visualize negative outcomes, and nothing that happens will shock you.

The things that shock us seem to occur at the times we least expect them — the death of a loved one, sickness, war. But just as an army trains for battle in times of peace, we have the ability to prepare for even life's most catastrophic and disturbing outcomes.

When you wake each day, remind yourself: today I may lose someone I love, face pain or sickness, fail at my goals, lose my job or my home. Visualize each event from a distance, and see yourself reacting calmly and rationally. In doing so, you will be preparing yourself for even the harshest of outcomes, while simultaneously finding yourself with increased gratitude for each day of good fortune.  
 

Words of Wisdom
 

This is why we need to envisage every possibility and to strengthen the spirit to deal with the things which may conceivably come about. Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. Misfortune may snatch you away from your country… If we do not want to be overwhelmed and struck numb by rare events as if they were unprecedented ones; fortune needs envisaging in a thoroughly comprehensive way.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. The fact that it was unforeseen has never failed to intensify a person’s grief. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

That person has lost their children: you too, can lose yours; that person received sentence of death: your innocence too, stands under the hammer. This is the fallacy that takes us in and makes us weak while we suffer misfortunes that we never foresaw that we could suffer. The person who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.

-Seneca, Consolation to Marcia

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Technique 6

Train for hardship, and no situation will overpower you.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca was one of the wealthiest men in the Roman Empire, but he would set aside a few days each month to live as if he was in poverty — eating little food and wearing rough clothing. He did this to train his mind and his body, and to remind himself that his happiness was not dependent upon external factors such as money and fine wine.

You too can fortify your mind by occasionally placing yourself in trying or uncomfortable situations. This may mean taking a cold shower in the morning, eating only rice for a day, walking barefoot through the city, or sleeping on the floor for a night.

In doing so, not only will you be preparing your mind and body for the possibility of unforeseen and tough circumstances, but you will find a new that those things you used to dread — like poverty or disaster — are bearable after all.
 

Words of Wisdom

A commander never puts such trust in peace that he fails to prepare for a war.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Everyone faces up more bravely to a thing for which he has long prepared himself, sufferings, even, being withstood if they have been trained for in advance. Those who are unprepared, on the other hand, are panic-stricken by the most insignificant happenings.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Set aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, and with rough, coarse clothing, and will ask yourself, 'Is this what one used to dread?

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

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Technique 7

Practice living with little — want what you already have.
 

Have you ever wondered why Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same outfit every day? Surely they could afford to buy more clothes (or even pay someone to color-match their wardrobe every day). Yet they do so because it reduces the complexity in their lives and saves valuable energy to direct towards the daily tasks at hand.

There is power in simplicity.

In becoming accustomed to the things you have, you become numb to it. Practice simplicity from time to time. Go without your car for a week — see what it is like to take mass transit. Strip away everything that is unnecessary in life and see if you are truly less happy than you were before. Remind yourself that your happiness does not depend upon material goods. In recalibrating your expectations, you will discover how fortunate you are.

 

Words of Wisdom

It is essential to make oneself used to putting up with a little. Even the wealthy and the well provided are continually met and frustrated by difficult times and situations. It is in no man’s power to have whatever he wants; but he has it in his power not to wish for what he hasn’t got, and cheerfully make the most of the things that do come his way.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Barley porridge, or a crust of bread, and water do not make a very cheerful diet, but nothing gives one keener pleasure than the ability to derive pleasure even from that - and the feeling of having arrived at something which one cannot be deprived of by any unjust stroke of fortune.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them… One of the causes of the troubles that beset us is the way our lives are guided by the example of others; instead of being set to rights by reason we’re seduced by convention.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

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Technique 8

Consider external things borrowed, not owned — accepting that they must be returned.
 

Your mind is the only thing you own in life. Your possessions and loved ones are only borrowed — gifts which can be taken away at any moment. Everyone you know will die. Everything you own can be taken away. Enjoy your friends and family in the moment, but don’t let yourself grow entitled.
 

See external things as an actor sees props on a stage — enjoying them during the length of the play, but knowing they must be returned when the script calls. Accepting this will help you make the most of your friends and family, never regretting that you did not appreciate them more.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

We have no grounds for self-admiration, as though we were surrounded by our own possessions; they have been loaned to us. We may use and enjoy them, but the one who allotted his gift decides how long we are to be tenants; our duty is to keep ready the gifts we have been given for an indefinite time and to return them when called upon, making no complaint: it is a sorry debtor who abuses his creditor.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

For no one is worthy of a god unless he has paid no heed to riches. I am not, mind you, against your possessing them, but I want to ensure that you possess them without tremors; and this you will only achieve in one way, by convincing yourself that you can live a happy life even without them, and by always regarding them as being on the point of vanishing.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

If they could ever satisfy us they would have done so by now — never thinking how pleasant it is to ask for nothing, how splendid it is to be complete and be independent of fortune.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance; and be ready to let it go.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Technique 9

Reflect on the nature of death — don't be fooled by its reputation.
 

There is nothing more that we fear in life than death. The Stoics taught that most of this fear is irrational — nothing but rumors heard from the living.
 

See death for what it is — a state you experienced for an eternity before you were born (was it so bad the first time?). A state you will return to, like a traveler returning home from a long journey.
 

Death is a part of the cycle of life. The cruelness of death is its unpredictability. The life of a healthy young woman is equally at risk as the life of an old man. Rehearse death in your mind, knowing it may come at any moment. Keep in mind that more important than a life short or long, is a life lived well.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years, or ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now… The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost. For you can’t lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don’t have?

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


There’s no difference between the one and the other — you didn’t exist and you won’t exist — you’ve got no concern with either period.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

As it is with a play, so it is with life - what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is. It is not important at what point you stop. Stop wherever you will — only make sure that you round it off with a good ending.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

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Part 3

Conquer Adversity

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Technique 10

Turn adversity into advantage — only hardship breeds triumph.
 

Most people view adversity as an evil — an obstacle preventing them from achieving their goals and finding happiness. You can flip your view by realizing that there is no better opportunity to test yourself than during times of misfortune.

Just as an athlete faces the trials of the arena, use hardship as an occasion for which you can test your virtues and prove your mettle. It is so easy to have principles in theory, acting by them is another feat entirely.

Only by facing up to adversity can we strengthen our resolve.
 

Words of Wisdom

 

Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it — turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself — so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

On the occasion of every accident (event) that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use… If it be abusive words, you will find it to be patience. And if you have been thus formed to the (proper) habit, the appearances will not carry you along with them.

-Epictetus, Enchiridion
 

A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Let us too overcome all things, with our reward consisting not in any wreath or garland, not in trumpet-calls for silence for the ceremonial proclamation of our name, but in moral worth, in strength of spirit, in a peace that is won forever once in any contest fortune has been utterly defeated.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

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Technique 11

Balance your perspective: contrast situations with their extremes.

When you find yourself overwhelmed due to an outside event, remember to contextualize the situation. Compare your current state to the countless ways in which it could be worse.

Are you frustrated while waiting on line at the store? Be thankful that you’re not living in a country where rations are so extreme that most grocery stores are empty. Are you experiencing physical pain? Recount the innumerable people in history who have faced up to disease, slavery and torture.

See your situation in its proper scale — view with humor the seriousness you placed on this almost already forgotten, passing event.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

Others have been plundered, indiscriminately, set upon, betrayed, beaten up, attacked with poison or with calumny — mention anything you like, it has happened to plenty of people.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

And here you may mention anything you care to name — a fit of uninterrupted coughing to violent that it brings up part of the internal organs, having one’s very entrails seared by a fever, thirst, having limbs wrenched in different directions with dislocations of the joints… There have been men who have undergone these experiences and never uttered a groan.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Look around you at all the throng of those you know and those you do not, you will find everywhere men whose sufferings have been greater; legend has not granted exemption from misfortune even to the gods.

-Seneca, Consolation to Marcia

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Technique 12

Do not blame events for your frustrations — blame your expectations.

When you find yourself frustrated, instead of blaming outside events, turn your focus within. Perhaps your boss wronged you — are you mad because he did so, or because you did not expect it to happen? What led you to believe that a human would never wrong another?

Remember that every disappointment or frustration is a result of your own unrealistic expectations — expectations which you alone are accountable for.

Do not expect this or that, and do not complain when the world does not function as you mistakenly expected it should.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

‘I did not think this would happen’, and ‘Would you ever have believed that this would happen?’ ‘But why not?’ is my reply.

-Seneca, On the Tranquility of the Mind
 

Remember: you shouldn’t be surprised that a fig tree produces figs, nor the world what it produces. A good doctor isn’t surprised when his patients have fevers, or a helmsman when the wind blows against him.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around them. That’s all you need to know. Nothing more. Don’t demand to know “why such things exist.” Anyone who understands the world will laugh at you, just as a carpenter would if you seemed shocked at finding sawdust in his workshop, or a shoemaker at scraps of leather left over from work.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Technique 13

Conquer pain and sickness: suffering is an opportunity for heroism.

When you face physical pain or sickness, do not allow yourself to be taken over by weakness or self-pity. These self-indulgent responses will only increase your suffering.

Remember that your pain is an opportunity to test your own virtue and resolve, and to inspire others with your strength and nobility. Few things instill courage in others like the sight of someone bravely enduring that of which we all face equal risk.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

Either pain affects the body (which is the body’s problem) or it affects the soul. But the soul can choose not to be affected, preserving its own serenity, its own tranquillity. All our decisions, urges, desires, aversions lie within. No evil can touch them.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Disease is an impediment to the body, but not to the will, unless the will itself chooses. Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will. And add this reflection on the occasion of everything that happens; for you will find it an impediment to something else, but not to yourself.

-Epictetus, Enchiridion
 

We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from there progress to things of greater value. If you have a headache, practice not cursing. Don’t curse every time you have an earache. And I’m not saying that you can’t complain, only don’t complain with your whole being.

-Epictetus, Discourses

 

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Technique 14

Remind yourself that all is familiar — nothing in life is foreign or new.

It’s easy to consider the evils in life as unparalleled in history, when in fact these things have gone unchanged from century to century. Marcus Aurelius and Seneca faced the same problems that confront us every day — whether disease, war, cruel dictators, poverty, greed, and anger to name a few.

In all that you experience, refrain from thoughts of fear or distress, for everything has been seen and experienced before, since the beginning of time. Only the names and faces change.

 

Words of Wisdom

 

[Remember] that everything has always been the same, and keeps recurring, and it makes no difference whether you see the same things recur in a hundred years or two hundred, or in an infinite period.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Everything that happens is as simple and familiar as the rose in spring, the fruit in summer: disease, death, blasphemy, conspiracy… everything that makes stupid people happy or angry.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Evil: the same old thing. No matter what happens, keep this in mind: It’s the same old thing, from one end of the world to the other. It fills the history books, ancient and modern, and the cities, and the houses too. Nothing new at all.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

The foolishness of people who are surprised by anything that happens. Like travelers amazed at foreign customs.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


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Part 4

Love (and Endure) Humankind

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Technique 15

Love humankind — we are in this together.
 

There is a common bond in our human existence. Do you know anyone who hasn’t suffered the death of a loved one? How many people can say they’ve never succumbed to the temptations of anger or lust?

Humans are more similar to one another than we allow ourselves to believe. Remember this in every interaction.

Whenever you engage with your colleagues, friends, family, or strangers, give them your utmost respect and attention. This focus on the present moment will increase the quality of your relationship, and increase your love and respect of humankind.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

All mankind are stretching out their hands to you on every side. Lives that have been ruined, lives that are on the way to ruin are appealing for some help; it is to you that they look for hope and assistance.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

You are wrong if you think anyone has been exempted from ill; the man who has known happiness for many a year will receive his share some day; whoever seems to have been set free from this has only been granted a delay.

-Seneca, On Providence
 

When it comes to all we’re required to go through, we’re equals. No one is more vulnerable than the next man, and no one can be more sure of his surviving to the morrow.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

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Technique 16

Forgive the wrongs of others — they err because they do not know better.
 

You cannot control other people’s wrongful actions. All you can control is how you react to them.

When people cause you harm, they are either aware of their impact on you, or unaware. If they are unaware, then don’t let their ignorance bother you. If they are aware, then realize they have a character flaw, somewhat that is not your responsibility to solve.

As Marcus Aurelius muses in his Meditations, we can hold our breath until our faces turn blue, yet people will not stop erring.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

[When someone does wrong:] Say to yourself each time, ‘They did what they believed was right.’

-Epictetus, Enchiridion
 

When faced with people’s bad behavior, turn around and ask when you have acted like that. When you saw money as a good, or pleasure, or social position. Your anger will subside as soon as you recognize that they acted under compulsion (what else could they do?).

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


To feel affection for people even when they make mistakes is uniquely human. You can do it, if you simply recognize: that they’re human too, that they act out of ignorance, against their will, and that you’ll both be dead before long. And, above all, that they haven’t really hurt you. They haven’t diminished your ability to choose.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


The best revenge is not to be like that.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


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Technique 17

Counter envy with reason — satisfaction can only be found within.
 

Possessions end up owning you. This maxim has maintained its truth throughout the centuries. When Seneca practiced poverty, it was as a reminder to himself of what it is like to live life without material possessions. He knew that if he coupled his self worth to his material possessions, then he would never find happiness.

For happiness resides within yourself.

Similarly, envying the possessions and success of others will serve you no good. At the end of the day only you can create and realize your own happiness.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

[If you envy what you don't have:] You’ll never be free — free, independent, imperturbable. Because you’ll always be envious and jealous, afraid that people might come and take it all away from you.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

People who need those things are bound to be a mess — and bound to take out their frustrations on the gods. Whereas to respect your own mind — to prize it — will leave you satisfied with your own self…

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Let us not envy those who stand on a higher station: what appeared as heights are precipices [cliffs].

-Seneca, On the Tranquility of the Mind

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Technique 18

Inspire others through action — no one likes a lecture.
 

Lead with your actions. People notice what you do and how you face up to the challenges of life. Instead of instructing others to work harder and navigate difficulties with resolve, show them silently.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus tells us we must act not as a sheep who throws up grass before digesting it. Instead, we should act as the sheep who digests the grass, the result being a beautiful and healthy coat.

We are the average of the people we surround ourselves with, so be sure to choose who you spend your time with wisely. Your companions and their actions shape you as much as you shape them.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

In company take care not to speak much and excessively about your own acts or dangers: for as it is pleasant to you to make mention of your dangers, it is not so pleasant to others to hear what has happened to you.

-Epictetus, Enchiridion
 

On no occasion call yourself a philosopher, and do not speak much among the uninstructed about theorems (philosophical rules, precepts): but do that which follows from them. For example, at a banquet do not say how a man ought to eat, but eat as you ought to eat.

-Epictetus, Enchiridion
 

Stop talking about what the good person is like, and just be one.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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Part 5

Act with Purpose

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Technique 19

Remember your duty as a human — to live as your nature demands.

Do not ignore the basic needs of body — food, shelter, and sleep. These are crucial elements to sustaining life. But do not confuse basic requirements with indulgences.

Always ask yourself, do I really need this? Likewise, do not forget that humans have the gift of reason. Our nature demands that we leverage our rational minds.

Remember that the basic acts of waking up, enjoying a simple meal, and contributing your work for the betterment of others, is a gift.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

How to act: Never under compulsion, out of selfishness, without forethought, with misgivings. Don’t gussy up your thoughts. No surplus of words or unnecessary actions. Let the spirit in you represent a man, an adult, a citizen, a Roman, a ruler. Taking up his post like a soldier and patiently awaiting his recall from life. Needing no oath, or witness. Cheerfulness. Without requiring other people’s help. Or serenity supplied by others. To stand up straight — not straightened.

-Seneca, On the Happy Life


Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing them out to yourself either as your guardian or as your mode. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won't make the crooked straight.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

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Technique 20

Make no random actions — nature has made no promise of tomorrow.
 

One of the certainties in life is that the next moment is never promised.

Focus everyday on the present and the tasks at hand. If you have goals, make your every action one that moves towards achieving them. Make the best out of every situation and opportunity — because you never know if you’ll have the chance to wake up and continue your work tomorrow. Use the knowledge of your certain death as a motivation in life.

Most people spend their days wandering aimlessly, never reaching any destination.

Use purposeful action like a compass— guiding you from moment to moment — with your goals always in mind.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

Concentrate every minute… on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions… You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life?

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time — even when hard at work.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Even the smallest thing should be done with reference to an end.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

No carelessness in your actions. No confusion in your words. No imprecision in your thoughts.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

What is the purpose of my labors going to be? See, this day's my last — or maybe it isn't , but it's not so far away from it.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

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Technique 21

Banish the nonessential — pruning the many makes the few strong.

Focus is an essential trait. The ability to cut through the extraneous and direct your time and effort on those things that will have an impact on the world around you will make you a unstoppable force.

Hone your skills to what time will allow you to master. Stop wasting your life on trivial matters, and you’ll see how much more you will be able to accomplish.

In deciding what stems to prune, Seneca reminds us that we must always be capable of completing the task at hand — stronger than the weight we are hoping to carry.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

‘If you seek tranquillity, do less.’ Or (more accurately) do what’s essential —what the reason of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?” But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions as well. To eliminate the unnecessary actions that follow.”

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


Measure your life: it just does not have room for so much.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

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Technique 22

Do not expect wealth and fame — let rewards be a pleasant surprise.
 

Do not expect great wealth and fame in life. Focus your attention on the work and tasks at hand, realizing the outcome of such labor is not under your control.

Is one person better than another only for the fact that they were rewarded by circumstance? Let your work itself be the reward.

What is fame after all? Marcus Aurelius muses that the desire to be admired by future generations is as foolish as hoping you will be admired by your own great-grandfather. Do not expect fame — instead work to help and enrich the lives of those whose time here you share.


Words of Wisdom
 

Certain things do make a real contribution to the unending joy deriving from virtue: the influence of wealth on the wise person, the joy it brings them, is like a favorable wind that sweeps the sailor on his course, or a fine day and a sunny spot amid the chill of winter.

-Seneca, On the Happy Life
 

The wise man does not consider himself unworthy of any gifts from Fortune’s hands: he does not love wealth but he would rather have it; he does not admit it into his heart but into his home, and what wealth is his he does not reject but keeps, wishing it to supply greater scope for him to practice his virtue.

-Seneca, On the Happy Life
 

Just as in a field which has been broken up for corn, some flowers grow here and there, but it was not for these little plants, though they gladden the eye, that so much work was undertaken — the sower had a different purpose, and this came as a bonus

-Seneca, On the Happy Life

 

Good is the answer given by the person… who when asked what was the object of all the trouble he took over a piece of craftsmanship when it would never reach more than a very few people replied: 'A few is enough for me; so is one; and so is none.’

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

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Technique 23

Strive for moderation — tranquility resides in balance.
 

A life of balance is a life of peace and stability. In all of your thoughts and actions, practice moderation — seeking only the necessary, not that extravagant.

Dress as one who respects humankind, neither in rags or extravagance. Eat to fulfill your hunger, not to gorge on every crumb.

In attaining balance, you can stand strong against from the blows of fate — finding neither your possessions or virtues can be toppled.
 

Words of Wisdom
 

Let us learn to increase our moderation, to restrain our extravagance, to moderate our ambition, to quell our anger, to regard poverty without prejudice, to practice thrift, to apply to nature’s wants cures that cost little, to keep in chains, so to speak, hopes that are wild and a mind always fixed on the future, and to make it our aim to seek riches, not from Fortune, but from ourselves.

-Seneca, On the Tranquility of the Mind


Your food should appease your hunger, your drink quench your thirst, your clothing keep out the cold, your house be a protection against inclement weather. It makes no difference whether it is built of turf or of variegated marble imported from another country: what you have to understand is that thatch makes a person just as good a roof as gold does.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

We should at least reduce the scale of our possessions, so that we may be less exposed to the injustices of Fortune. In war, better service is done by men whose bodies can be packed into their armor than by those whose bodies spill over, leaving their very bulk everywhere a target for wounds.

-Seneca, On the Tranquility of the Mind
 

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Technique 24

Do not rest on the laurels of the past — always strive for truth.
 

In directing our actions and sculpting our views, we too often look blindly to antiquity as our guide. Why do we put our trust and faith in those who have come before us, and not ourselves and those who live amongst us now?

Trust your ability to seek truth, seeing those who came before us both leaders and equals. Just because people have always acted in such a way does not mean that it is the most virtuous path. Seneca was a great and virtuous man — yet he owned slaves. Does that mean that you should as well?

Revisit your past decisions and those of others, remembering that tomorrow you may find that today you were wrong, and you too will one day be part of antiquity.

Remain humble. Retain your virtue and courage. Always search for the truth, and perceive it clearly.
 

Words of Wisdom


If anyone can refute me — show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective — I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
 

Remember that to change your mind and to accept correction are free acts too. The action is yours, based on your own will, your own decision — and your own mind.

-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


These people who never attain independence follow the views of their predecessors, first, in matters in which everyone else without exception has abandoned the older authority concerned, and secondly, in matters in which investigations are still not complete. But no new findings will ever be made if we rest content with the findings of the past.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic
 

The people who pioneered the old routes are leaders, not our masters. Truth lies open to everyone. There has yet to be a monopoly of truth. And there is plenty of it left for future generations too.

-Seneca, Letters from a Stoic


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About the authors
 

William Boyce

William is the founder of PocketStoic.com. He is an experienced mobile product designer, and has led efforts in development and growth for both early-stage and established companies.
 

Sean O’Connor

Sean is a product manager at PocketStoic.com. He is a blogger and writer on stoicism. He has worked in EdTech, building products to help students love learning.