8 Core Exercises in Stoicism aka. How to Live a Good Life
These 8 core tenets of stoicism are used as tools in living a good life. They influence your path through life by your perceptions, decisions and actions. They teach you:
- How to be a good person.
- How to understand how you fit in the world.
- How to prioritise.
- How to turn bad into good.
They are important lessons to learn for yourself, and also to pass on to your children. And in dark times they also defend and guard you from:
Depression. Anxiety. Indolence. Deceit. Suicide. Despair. Manipulation. Corruption. Machiavellianism. Narcissism. Psychopathy.
They are also exercises because they are practiced daily in every moment of life. When you feel listlessness and dissatisfaction, you will be amazed at the direction you take, what you accomplish, and the person you become.
Life is unpredictable. There is much we have no control over. Accepting this lack of control can either cripple and overwhelm you, or it can free and liberate you. We don’t control and cannot rely on external events — only ourselves and our responses.
Here’s what to do:
8. Summum Bonum — “The Highest Good”
What is the highest good? What are we aiming for in this life? The answer is Virtue.
Virtue is doing, acting and living right. If we act virtuously, everything else important will follow: happiness, success, meaning, and love. This path isn’t easy, nor would it always be recognised or appreciated by those closest to us. Anticipate resistance. Nonetheless it is essential. Why?
The alternative to striving towards the highest good is to just drift through life, succumbing to and being manipulated by external forces. Such a path is considered only by fools and cowards.
“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.”
— Marcus Aurelius
7. The Four Virtues — “Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude & Justice”
You don’t control the world around you: only how you respond, and how you play the game. And how you play with virtue is through:
Temperance/Self-Control: The ability to restrain and moderate. Virtue is found in the middle between excess and deficiency. Abundance comes from having only that which is essential. Defends against the extremes of both pleasure and pain.
Wisdom/Prudence: The ability to discern in any situation the appropriate course of action, at the appropriate time. Discernment informs action. Defends against impulsivity and irrationality.
Courage/Fortitude: The ability to confront fear and uncertainty. To persist and resist in the face of misfortune and adversary. Defends against cowardice and despair.
Justice/Righteousness: The ability to be justified in character, morality and ethics. Defends against selfishness and corruption.
You can have everything you want, if you just make the effort to take the road that leads through virtue.
6. Amor Fati — “Love Your Fate and Everything that Happens”
Treat each and every moment — no matter how challenging — as something to be embraced, not avoided. Become better for it. Accept and be grateful.
“A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Greatness is to want nothing to be different. See and understand what occurs around us — and decide what those events will mean to you.
You discipline yourself to show yourself that you truly control your thoughts and actions. You can’t control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.”
5. Memento Mori — “Remember, you too must die.”
You are mortal.
Meditate on your mortality to create priority and meaning. Create real perspective and urgency. To treat your time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. You can choose to be depressed by death. But to embrace it is the key to happiness.
When you truly comprehend your mortality, you are grateful for the life you do have. When you go to bed and reflect on the day you lived, and you wake up the next day - you are elated: “I get a free bonus day!”
You go through life knowing you’re going to die. It is the burden of existence you must carry every day. Embrace that heavy burden — it is yours to carry with a smile. Each extra day of time you have is a gift.
Death doesn’t make life pointless — death gives life purpose.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”
— Marcus Aurelius
4. Premeditatio Malorum — “The Pre-Meditation of Evils”
Imagine all the things that could go wrong or be taken away from you. What’s the worse case scenario? What’s the worst that could happen? You can anticipate these outcomes, and be better for it. Setbacks are inevitable, so develop resilience to uncertainty.
This isn’t pessimism or the lack of optimism — it’s simply a reality check. Be prepared — and be open to any possibility and consequence.
“Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.”
3. Sympatheia — “Affinity to the whole. Mutual Interdependence.”
Individual empowerment only works when it’s among everything else in the universe. We are just a small part in a larger organism. The common good directs your decisions, and you as an individual determine your actions.
Zoom out of your own little bubble, change your perspective and see the entire world for what it really is. Understand the interdependence of everyone on it.
How do I work to help others? How can I ensure my success doesn’t come at the expense of others? How do I see and contribute myself as a citizen of the world?
This is what transforms your anxieties into absurdities. What once was self-important becomes trivial with the correct perspective.
“Life is short — the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.”
— Marcus Aurelius
2. Ego is the Enemy
Almost every story, myth and religion in the world teaches us about the dangers of hubris/pride. Your ego isn’t there to help you or allow you to grow — it exists only to protect itself and i’s own identity, at the expense of everything else.
Always ask: Why am I doing this? What is my motivation? Am I doing this for others? Or I am doing this to feel superior to others? Is this fuel for my arrogance?
You are not special. The world is indifferent to you. It will continue without you.
“You cannot learn that which you think you already know.”
1. The Obstacle Is The Way
Things are going to happen that you don’t want to happen. But you can focus on how to use what happens to your advantage. In every obstacle is a chance to improve your condition. Do you fall to the ground and feel sorry for yourself, or do you stand tall and take action to better your situation?
The obstacle in your path IS the path forward.
That which stands in your way IS the way.
“The impediment to action advances action. That which stands in the way becomes the way.”
— Marcus Aurelius
No matter what happens, we always have the capacity to use reason and make choices. We should always try to do the right thing. Make the right decision. It’s all that we control. Let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to become better and stronger.
Endure pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. The embrace of these principles ultimately matters more than natural intelligence, talents, or luck.
The rest takes care of itself.
With or without your consent.