I’m not really one to talk about philosophy very often. In fact, when conversations with friends and colleagues have turned “deep” in the past, I’ve always squirmed a bit while looking at life from such a high vantage point. It always seemed like others had such a handle on their perception of life and the direction they were headed. Meanwhile, I would consider myself more of a “roll with the punches” type of person, without having a specific goal or direction.
However, after Bryan recently introduced me to Stoicism, I’ve realized that I’ve had a direction all along and today I’ll be discussing why I feel that heading down the philosophical path of Stoicism might work for you.
A Quick Note on Philosophy
I want to start this off by explaining that I’m not delving into religion in this piece. When I reference philosophy, I’m using it to describe the thought process behind actions, knowledge and values in our lives. While many people would quickly align these processes with their religious beliefs, I think that people of two different religions can share the same philosophy.
What is Stoicism?
When describing someone as “stoic,” many times people intend to convey that person is unemotional or non-plussed by things that happen to them. While that person may indeed be lacking emotion, it’s also possible that they’re simply having a logical reaction to whatever problem they’ve been faced with.
Stoicism is a belief that using a clear head and logical reasoning in reacting to problems or making decisions is ultimately a more positive way to live. In essence, having a bad day is something you’re in control over. Many people are quick to view things negatively and develop a habit of feeling sorry for themselves.
Nature is a great place to look for examples of this philosophy. To quote D.H. Lawerence, (or the movie G.I. Jane if you prefer) “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.” Animals don’t assign things as positive or negative, they simply react.
Those that practice this philosophy understand they can only control their actions and reactions to things that occur in life. Much like an animal, these people act based off what’s happening to them, rather than seeking to understand why it’s happening to them.
One of the most famous Stoics was the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who would set aside time each day for writing about things like compassion, humility and restraint. These writings offer a look into the life of one of the most powerful people in history and show his belief that we are truly in control of our actions, mood and future.
The Benefits of Stoicism
Those that attempt to follow this philosophy will discover that taking the time to process things logically, rather than allow a knee jerk reaction, will quickly allow them to control much in their life. As mentioned before, you can’t choose the information you’re provided from someone, but you can control your reaction to it. With this thinking, everything that happens in life simply opens up an opportunity for you to learn and better yourself.
Particularly in our industry, this philosophy can be an invaluable tool. When it comes to reading situations or dealing with conflict, using a logical mind to plan a response is what many are already doing. Let’s say you’re out shopping at the mall with your family and you notice a person headed towards you that puts you into what Col. Jeff Cooper would call, “Condition Orange.” Your reaction to that person isn’t wondering why they’re acting strangely or making odd movements. You aren’t asking yourself what’s motivating them to act like this or why you’re having to deal with this situation, you’re just preparing yourself to deal with it.
How Can I Practice Stoicism?
One great resource when delving into this philosophy is Daily Stoic. In addition to tons of information, they provide emails with exercises and reminders for practicing Stoicism. Something that I’ve also found helpful is writing out a chart of a month and each night, marking that day as “Good, Neutral or Bad.” The goal would obviously be to have all the days be marked Good, but you’ll find that the days marked as Neutral or Bad offer the most learning. I always ask myself, “How did my reaction allow today to be marked this way?”
In most cases, I can trace a specific reaction in the day that tipped the scale away from good. As time goes on, you’ll find yourself reminded of the previous reactions and you can “course correct” the day back on track.
One of the best examples of Stoicism that I can point to is this awesome video from someone I consider to be a Stoic through and through, Jocko Willink.
Much like law or medicine, I think Stoicism is something that can only be practiced and never mastered. As a human, you’ll sometimes respond to things reflexively rather than logically. Using resources like Daily Stoic will help you to remind yourself to think logically and view everything that happens to you as an opportunity to learn and do better. After all, to quote the great Marcus Aurelius, “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”