7 Practical Lessons From Stoic Philosophy That Will Significantly Improve Your Everyday Life

7 Practical Lessons From Stoic Philosophy That Will Significantly Improve Your Everyday Life
It's easy to think the modern stresses of life are unique to our generation, yet thousands of years ago, Stoic philosophers were struggling with similar issues.

If you’re fed up with empty feel-good phrases and instead crave actionable advice that actually helps you become a better person, look no further than Stoicism – “the most practical of all philosophies,” as bestselling author Ryan Holiday calls it.

Stoic authors weren’t out-of-this-world philosophers debating life’s meaning while high on a heroic dose of ancient mushrooms. They came from all walks of life – teachers and soldiers, poets and senators, slaves and emperors. Different backgrounds, one common trait: They were men of action.

Their essential principle was to take control of the only thing we have guaranteed control over – our minds. Over the years, the Stoic’s many lessons have helped me build a coaching business, eliminate drama, and master life’s many obstacles with excellence. These seven teachings will help you take charge of your life, be happier, and become the best version of yourself you can be.

How To Take Control of Your Life

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4-5

What if I told you most of your worries are unnecessary and nothing but a waste of your precious time and energy?

As a guy, you have a ton of shit on your plate. The meeting at work. Hair loss. Keeping your finances in order. Working on your relationship. Not touching the toilet bowl with your private parts when you sit down for some potty time. No wonder your head sometimes feels like someone hooked a high-pressure hose to a watermelon.

When life gets too much, ask yourself this simple question:

“What’s within my control?”

Instead of worrying about all the things you can’t change, focus on the ones you can.

You can’t control if your date likes you, but you can put your best foot forward.

You can’t unburn the lump of coal that once was your dinner, but you can decide if you let it ruin your evening or if it’s time to try out the takeaway around the corner.

You can’t force your boss to promote you, but you can give them a reason to and address the topic.

The shift in perspective is simple but powerful. A few weeks ago, my friends and I got into a traffic jam due to a heavy load vehicle. There was nothing we could do, so instead of screaming and cursing like the rest of us, I closed my eyes, fell asleep, and got there without wasting my energy on unnecessary worries.

Focus on what you can control and let go of the rest.

Anger Is Weakness

“Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on — it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and humility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance – unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 11.18.5b

The last several decades of culture have told us few things seem more manly than a testosterone-laden, vein-popping, raging guy – yet, this is one of the most unmanly behaviors there is.

Unleashing your anger feels good in the moment but messes up your life in the long run. Think about all the hurtful words, shattered furniture, and foot-stomping fits caused by rage. Were they worth it? Wouldn’t you have achieved much more with an empathetic discussion, a few deep breaths, and calm, collected action?

Every time you give in to your anger, you become a slave to your emotions and anyone who’s able to provoke you. They pull the strings and you dance like a wind-up monkey. If you want to showcase true strength and get what you want, stop giving in to your anger.

This doesn’t mean you should suppress your emotions altogether. It’s fine to feel angry when a knucklehead driver cuts you off in traffic or your spouse doesn’t know what they want to eat for the 16th time in a row. But you’re in control of your reaction to that feeling.

Feel the anger but act with rationale – it doesn’t get more powerful than that.

The Rules For A Great Life Are Simple

“In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.51

Life can be complex – but living a great one can be simple.

With over eight billion people, millions of different jobs, climate change, heartbreaks, and tax declarations that feel like untying the Gordian knot while you’re blindfolded, it’s impossible to have a guide for every specific situation.

The good news is you don’t have to – follow the right principles and you’ll live a happy and fulfilled life, no matter how complex the world gets.

  • Don’t procrastinate in your actions.
    It’s easy to push things off. “I’ll work out/build my business/start reading tomorrow.” Life’s short – focus on what matters and get to it. You have no time to waste.
  • Don’t confuse in your conversations.
    If you need to say something, spit it out. Stop beating around the bush. Opening up and being honest isn’t always easy, but it’s a lot better than regretting you didn’t speak your heart.
  • Don’t wander in your thoughts.
    The world we live in packs tons of distractions. Social media, advertisements, the news, and being ghosted from last week’s date all compete for a piece of your brainpower. Instead of losing yourself in your thoughts, focus on what matters in the present moment.
  • Don’t be passive or aggressive.
    Being passive means you’ll get walked over, being aggressive means you’ll walk over others. Be assertive instead – stand up for what you want without leaning to either extreme.
  • Don’t be all about business.
    It’s easy to lose yourself in a rabbit hole of achievement, growth, and success. It’s fun and society’s expectations reinforce the process. But there is more to life – the majority of your happiness comes from the connections you make with other humans.

Don’t make your time on this planet too complicated – simple rules, happy life.

The Only Way To Deal With Haters

“What if someone despises me? Let them see to it. But I will see to it that I won’t be found doing or saying anything contemptible. What if someone hates me? Let them see to that. But I will see to it that I’m kind and good-natured to all, and prepared to show even the hater where they went wrong. Not in a critical way, or to show off my patience, but genuinely and usefully.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 11.13

It’s impossible to show principles and character without having a few people despise you or take a dump in your metaphorical garden.

Some folks will make you angry. Cheat on you. Say bad things. Take credit for your work. Gossip about you like teenagers about their high school crush, wetting their pants laughing at you with their friends. Trash-talk creative pursuits that you’ve shared with the world.

There is only one way to deal with haters – and it’s making sure their attitude doesn’t compromise you.

My ex broke up with me like wearing a tie while working a hydraulic press – sudden, painful, and leaving a big mess. I was hurt, confused, angry, and her subsequent shit-talking and lies had me wonder whether I’d ever be able to trust another human being again. 

The only thing that could’ve made the situation worse was if she owed me money – oh wait, she still does. I would’ve had every reason to pressure her despite knowing she was constantly broke, but kicking someone who’s already down would’ve made me just as bad as her. Instead, I chose compassion and gave her time to scrape together the shekels. Staying true to my principles and being able to look at myself in the mirror with a smile is worth more than any fleeting satisfaction of getting back at her ever could be.

Giving in to haters is like wrestling with a pig in the mud – you’ll both get dirty and the pig likes it. Integrity is one of the highest virtues you can achieve, so don’t get compromised by others’ actions. Stay true to yourself and your principles, and you’ll go to bed each night knowing you’ve done the right thing.

How To Let Go of Your Worries

“It’s ruinous for the soul to be anxious about the future and miserable in advance of misery, engulfed by anxiety that the things it desires might remain its own until the very end. For such a soul will never be at rest — by longing for things to come it will lose the ability to enjoy present things.” — Seneca, Moral Letters, 98.5b-6a

Worrying is self-mutilation of the mind.

If things turn out well, you were miserable for no reason. If they turn out badly, you were miserable for extra time. Put like that, there’s no point wrecking your brain and mood.

But “just stop worrying” is easier said than done. How can you not trouble yourself with anxious thoughts about the future when you’re neck-deep in shit? 

By applying a simple reframe.

Life consists of ups and downs. It doesn’t matter if something is going to be good or bad, but you’ll survive the challenge, come out stronger, and be fine in the end. Instead of dreading the upcoming experience, change your perspective on the situation. Think about what you’ve survived so far and know that you’ll be able to do it again. That’s a fantastic journal exercise.

I’ve gone through months of an agonizing diet and workout regiment to compete in bodybuilding. I’ve built my own business from scratch, working late nights while everyone else partied. I’ve crashed my motorbike, injuring innocent others. These situations gave me plenty of reasons to worry, but they won’t be the last struggles I’ll encounter in life. Yet, I know I’ll make it through and enjoy the rainbow after the rain.

Trust yourself to be fine in the end you’ll let go of any reason to worry. Regardless of what comes up, you’ll figure it out. You always have.

Don’t Waste Your Most Important Asset

“It’s essential for you to remember that the attention you give to any action should be in due proportion to its worth, for then you won’t tire and give up, if you aren’t busying yourself with lesser things beyond what should be allowed.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.32b

Attention is the currency of the 21st century.

Colorful apps, 2-for-1 offers, spammy newsletters, shady salespeople, and your family, friends, and passions all compete for yours. If you don’t manage yourself, you get pulled from one to the other like chewing gum between shoe and road, wondering why there aren’t enough hours in the day. Take back control over your mind and you’ll regain your time and energy.

With every action you take, you allocate your attention, so ask yourself if whatever you’re doing is worth it.

Are a few memes on Instagram worth the time and effort? Is waiting for a text back more important than using that time to work on yourself? Should you get into that argument instead of creating good vibes and connecting with people you love?

Seven years ago, I made one of the best decisions of my life. I stopped watching the news because my time and attention are too valuable to waste them on ever-repeating, the world is ending tomorrow, doomsday stories. Less drama, less time wasted, less negativity – and I still haven’t missed anything important.

Whatever you do with your attention, value it instead of handing it out like candy.

Two Things Can Occupy Your Mind, but Only One Will Make You Happy

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus

Being happy isn’t about what you have or don’t have, but what you choose to focus on.

I’ve traveled to many of the poorer areas of Southeast Asia. What baffled me most wasn’t how much chili you can eat in a single meal without suffering a cardiac arrest, but how little some people have and how happy they are with it. Meanwhile, we go about our lives with five- and six-figure jobs, 401ks, and fancy cars, yet still aren’t satisfied.

This is the “a little more trap.” No matter how much you have, you think a little more will make you happy. A slightly bigger TV. A faster car. The fancy sneakers you’ve been dreaming about for half a year. A few more dollars on your paycheck, a little more action in the bedroom, and some more abs to show on the beach. But a little more is never going to cut it unless you change your perspective.

When I started writing, I thought my first paid article would make me happy. Then, I aimed for the first $1000 per month. Then $5000. I started coaching, aching for the first client. Then the second. The third. And so on.

Look at everything you have right now and realize that at one point, you thought having it would make you happy. Achieving more and more can’t be the option. Instead, you have to flip the script.

Change your perspective. Appreciate how far you’ve come and be grateful for what you have. You control what you focus on.

Wrap-Up To Help You Become Your Best Self

Stoic philosophy isn’t a bunch of theoretical rants with no practical value. The insights were recorded by real people facing real challenges. And as such, these lessons help us all live a better life, every day.

  1. Focus on what you can control and let go of the rest.
  2. Giving in to your anger makes you weak.
  3. Living a great life comes down to a few simple rules.
  4. If people hate on you or do you wrong, don’t let them compromise you.
  5. Let go of your worries and trust that you’ll come out fine in the end.
  6. Your attention is your most important asset – don’t waste it.
  7. Appreciate what you have instead of grieving for what you don’t.

Never forget that you’re the only one in control of your mind – used right, it’s the most powerful tool you have.

daily stoic book cover

Add stoicism to your morning routine

If you liked the mindset of this philosophy, check out The Daily Stoic, a modern interpretation of Stoic teachings broken up into daily bite-sized lessons for modern life.

Check it out on Amazon

Authentic Masculinity | Helping men to build unshakable confidence, iron discipline, and a meaningful life | Let's connect on Twitter.