Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy that is often associated with emotional resilience and the ability to endure suffering. Although it originated over 2,000 years ago, its teachings can still be applied to modern life and the challenges we face today. In fact, the principles of stoicism can be particularly useful for helping people cope with modern stressors and anxiety.
As a psychologist, I was drawn to stoicism in my undergraduate studies. In graduate school, I searched for a therapeutic model that was in alignment with stoicism. Mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) fit those requirements. As a result, I became an expert in mindfulness-based CBT, which is an evidence-based treatment for stress, anxiety, and mental health disorders.
This blog post shares the key principles of stoicism and how to apply them to your daily life.
Here are some ways that stoicism can be applied:
Focus on What You Can Control:
One of the central teachings of stoicism is the importance of focusing on what is within your control and letting go of what is outside of your control. This can be a helpful mindset when dealing with modern stressors, which often involve external factors that we cannot control. By focusing on what we can control, we can reduce our stress and anxiety and feel more empowered to take action.
Another key principle of stoicism is the idea of being present in the moment and fully engaged in what you are doing. This can be a useful practice in modern life, where distractions and technology can make it difficult to stay focused. By practicing mindfulness, we can reduce our stress and increase our sense of well-being.
Stoicism encourages us to view adversity as an opportunity for growth and learning. This can be a helpful mindset when dealing with modern stressors, which often involve unexpected challenges and setbacks. By embracing adversity, we can develop greater resilience and find meaning in our struggles. You might review my blog post, SufferWell to practice embracing adversity.
Stoicism emphasizes the importance of cultivating virtues such as wisdom, courage, justice, and compassion. By working to develop these virtues, we can become more resilient and better equipped to cope with modern stressors. For example, cultivating wisdom can help us make better decisions, while cultivating compassion can help us connect with others and find meaning in our lives.
Develop a Sense of Purpose:
Finally, stoicism encourages us to develop a sense of purpose and to live in accordance with our values. This can be a helpful practice in modern life, where many people feel disconnected and unfulfilled. By developing a sense of purpose and living in accordance with our values, we can find greater meaning and satisfaction in our lives.
Example: How to Practice Stoicism in Daily Life
Let’s say you are experiencing a lot of stress at work because of a demanding boss and a heavy workload. The stress is affecting your sleep, your relationships, and your overall sense of well-being. Here’s how you could apply stoicism to cope with this problem:
Focus on What You Can Control: Identify the aspects of the situation that are within your control. For example, you may not be able to control your boss’s demands, but you can control your own response to those demands. You can prioritize your tasks, set boundaries, and communicate your needs to your boss.
Practice Mindfulness: When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to pause and breathe. Bring your attention to the present moment and focus on what you need to do in that moment. This can help you stay focused and reduce your stress.
Embrace Adversity: See this challenging situation as an opportunity for growth and learning. Perhaps this experience will help you develop new skills or learn to better manage your time and energy. By embracing the challenge, you can find meaning and purpose in your work.
Cultivate Virtues: Stoicism emphasizes the importance of cultivating virtues such as wisdom, courage, justice, and compassion. As you navigate this challenging situation, think about how you can embody these virtues. For example, you can practice wisdom by seeking out advice from trusted colleagues or mentors, and you can practice compassion by being kind and supportive to yourself and others.
Develop a Sense of Purpose: Think about your values and what motivates you in your work. By developing a sense of purpose and living in accordance with your values, you can find greater meaning and fulfillment in your work, even in the midst of a stressful situation.
By applying these principles of stoicism, you can develop greater resilience, cope more effectively with stress, and find meaning and purpose in your work. Remember, while you may not be able to control every aspect of your situation, you can control your response to it. By focusing on what you can control and cultivating a stoic mindset, you can navigate even the most challenging situations with grace and resilience.
Quotes by Stoic Philosopher & Roman Emperor
One of my favorite stoic philosophers, Emperor Marcus Aurelius (born April 26, 121 — died March 17, 180), emphasized the development of self-control and resilience in the face of adversity, living in accordance with nature and the rational principles of the universe. His book Meditations completed in 175 A.D. has offered a guide for living for almost 2,000 years.
Below are 10 critical teachings from his book.
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good person should be. Be one.”
“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life.”
Overall, stoicism offers a range of principles and practices that can be applied to modern life and the challenges we face today. By adopting a stoic mindset and incorporating these practices into our lives, we can become more resilient, mindful, and purposeful. Whether we are dealing with work stress, family issues, or other challenges, the principles of stoicism can help us find greater peace, meaning, and fulfillment in our lives.
If you need help applying stoicism to your daily life, please contact me, Dr. Christine Dickson, clinical psychologist. My practice focuses on mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy, which is an evidence-based treatment. Please reach out to me today through my website.