Stoic philosophy oversimplified

Stoic philosophy oversimplified


Since the beginning of this year, every day I read at least a page about stoic philosophy, and overall I finished 5 books in this topic. I am fascinated in this ancient philosophy, in big part thanks to the work of the Ryan Holiday, who moved those teachings to today’s ground. Then it inspired me to start the original teachinst: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. I still feel that I am far from being competent in this topic, but I believe I am ready to give a noobie oversimplified explanation of how I see the Stoic philosophy. I hope this perspective will give a middleground that would let you understand and profit from the core concepts, and hopefully inspire you to read more in this topic. If I got something wrong, correct me (login using the floating button on right-bottom corner and send me a message). Farewell.

What we can control and what we cannot

I one of the most important Stoic ideas is that we should learn to distinguish what we can control and what we cannot. You should not spend bad emotions over what you cannot control. What is truly important is that you did your best, not if you succeeded or not. Then it is important to learn as much as possible, again no matter if you succeeded or not.

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

What you can control? You have limited control over your situation ond over the results over your actions, as it is in big part the result of a good or bad lack. But there are things that you can control more:

  • Your attitude is more in your control, and we should work on it to make it as good as possible (the first part of The obstacle is the way by Ryan Holiday is about it). Although you need to remamber that it is under many influences, and you cannot control it fully.
  • Your actions are more over your control, and we should also work on make them ad efficient as possible (the second part of The obstacle is the way by Ryan Holiday is about it). But again, your actions might be limited or influenced, and sometimes we might not fully control ourselves.
  • Your will is the only thing you fully control, and o it should be exercised and straightened (the third part of The obstacle is the way by Ryan Holiday is about it).

Building our will and discipline is essential as it is increasing our control. Stoic have many practices for that, for instance:

  • Fasting
  • Living modestly

They are to strengthen out will, but also to destroy a fear of bad luck.

Amor Fati - accepting your fortune

We cannot fully control our situation, and we can always loose everything we have. But Stoic belive that we should not fear that, but instead learn to enjoy every situation we are in. If you have open mind, you can notice that even the worst situation just as loosing everything you have is not that bad. We can be very happy leaving in poverty. There is nothing to fear except fear itself. Stoic exercise that by reflection, but again by practices that deprive us from comforts. This is strongly connected to the previous paragraph as by limiting comfort we also exercise our will. This is, in Stoic eyes, of a great utility.

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never been unfortunate; you have passed through life without an antagonist; no one will know what you can do, - not even yourself.” For if a man is to know himself, he must be tested; no one finds out what be can do except by trying. - Seneca

Embracing obstacles

As a result of absolute acceptance of the fortune, we should never feed anger or grief about what happened. Those are facts. When you do accept that, you can notice that even the worst situations can be used to your advantage. This is what Stoic train themselves in - turning all the obstacles into advantages. Lost your limb? Many turned it into advantage my becoming a motivational speakers and showing that in such a situation they can be happy and live with passion. You have a terrible boss? You can just change the job, and when you know you are changing it you have options you hadn’t before. Or maybe the boss is terrible to others as well, and you it can consolidate you as a group. Or maybe only to you and others can see that, and you can use it. According to Stoics, whatever the situation, it can be turned into an advantage. Even if not directly, at least by exercising your will, helping you grow as a person or giving you new teachings.

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. - Marcus Aurelius

Memento mori - Embracing mortality

Another important Stoic practice is the reflection on your mortality. We need to remember that you we can all die at every moment. What would you do differently if you would know you are ging to die in an hour? How about in a day? In a week? In a month? In a year? We people too often plan happiness for the future. Stoic believe we should be happy with every moment. But they also believe we reach the happyness by acting the best we can, by being moral, by practicing our virtues. So all those practices of fasting or modesty are not only to make us stronger and lear fearful in the future, but also to make us happier now by giving us the sence that we are living how we should be living.

Reflection on mortiality is about prioritization. It is to remamber that our time is limited, and to concentrate what is most important to us. We will die anyways, it is something we cannot control. What we should do is to do our best to spend every moment as well as possible.

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Marcin The author of the Effective Kotlin and Android Development in Kotlin books, founder of the Kt. Academy and Learning-Driven, programming trainer, speaker at international conferences, experienced developer.
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