Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs

338 Comments


Stoicism was born on the porch of Zeno, but it can be used in the concrete jungle.
(Photo: Blue Cinderella)

“There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.”
-Seneca

Few of us would consider ourselves philosophers.

Most of us can recall at least one turtleneck-wearing intellectual in college who dedicated countless hours of study to the most obscure philosophical points of Marx or post-structural lesbian feminism. For what? Too often, to posture as a superior intellect at meal time or over drinks.

Fortunately, there are a few philosophical systems designed to produce dramatic real-world effects without the nonsense. Unfortunately, they get punished because they lack the ambiguity required for weeks of lectures and expensive textbooks.

In the last three years, I’ve begun to explore one philosophical system in particular: Stoicism. Though my preferred Stoic writer, Lucius Seneca, I’ve found it to be a simple and immensely practical set of rules for better results with less effort.

Ryan Holiday is 21 years old and works directly with Dov Charney as his online strategist for American Apparel. He gets more heat, makes more high-stakes decisions, and take more risks in a given week than most people experience in any given quarter. He also happens to be a die-hard Stoic and incredible at putting the principles into practice…

He kindly agreed to write this piece, and I hope you find it as valuable as I do.

Stoicism 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Entrepreneurs

Author: Ryan Holiday

For those of us who live our lives in the real world, there is one branch of philosophy created just for us: Stoicism.

It doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. Just like an entrepreneur, it’s built for action, not endless debate. 

When laid out in front of you, it should be instantly clear what it means. If you have to study it to understand it, someone is probably try to pull something over on you.

Popular with the educated elite of the Greco-Roman Empire, and with thinkers like Montaigne, John Stuart Mill and Tom Wolfe, Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

If this were your average introduction to philosophy, we would have to talk about how Stoicism was started (stoa means porch, where the early followers used to hold meetings) and when it began. I happen to think that the history of a philosophy is less interesting than its proponents and applications. So, for a change, let’s spend our time on the latter.

Stoicism had three principle leaders. Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of the Roman Empire, the most powerful man on earth, sat down each day to write himself notes about restraint, compassion and humility. Epictetus endured the horrors of slavery to found his own School where he taught many of Rome’s greatest minds. Seneca, when Nero turned on him and demanded his suicide, could think only of comforting his wife and friends. 

Stoicism differs from most existing schools in one important sense: its purpose is practical application. It is not an intellectual enterprise. It’s a tool that we can use to become better entrepreneurs, better friends and better people.

Stoic writing isn’t about beating up on yourself or pointing out the negative. It’s a meditative technique that transforms negative emotions into a sense of calm and perspective.

It’s easy to gloss over the fact that Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor without truly absorbing the gravity of that position. Emperors were Deities, ordinary men with direct access to unlimited wealth and adulation. Before you jump to the conclusion that the Stoics were dour and sad men, ask yourself, if you were a dictator, what would your diary look like? How quickly could it start to resemble Kayne West’s blog?

Stoic writing is much closer Yoga session or a pre-game warm up than to a book of philosophy a university professor might write. It’s preparation for the philosophic life – an action – where the right state of mind is the most critical part.

Stoics practiced what are known as “spiritual exercises” and drew upon them for strength (Note from Tim: I dislike the word “spiritual” for reasons I’ve mentioned before, but scholar Pierre Hadot explains it’s appropriateness here).

Let’s look at three of the most important such exercises.

Practice Misfortune

“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.”
-Seneca

Seneca, who enjoyed great wealth as the adviser of Nero, suggested that we ought to set aside a certain number of days each month to practice poverty. Take a little food, wear your worst clothes, get away from the comfort of your home and bed. Put yourself face to face with want, he said, you’ll ask yourself “Is this what I used to dread?”

It’s important to remember that this is an exercise and not a rhetorical device. He doesn’t mean “think about” misfortune, he means live it. Comfort is the worst kind of slavery because you’re always afraid that something or someone will take it away. But if you can not just anticipate but practice misfortune, then chance loses its ability to disrupt your life.

Montaigne was fond of an ancient drinking game where the members took turns holding up a painting of a corpse inside a coffin and cheered “Drink and be merry for when you’re dead you will look like this.”

Emotions like anxiety and fear have their roots in uncertainty and rarely in experience. Anyone who has made a big bet on themselves knows how much energy both states can consume. The solution is to do something about that ignorance. Make yourself familiar with the things, the worst-case scenarios, that you’re afraid of.

Practice what you fear, whether a simulation in your mind or in real-life.

Then you, your company, and your employees will have little left to keep you from thinking and acting big.

The downside is almost always reversible or transient.

Train Perception to Avoid Good and Bad

“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.”
-Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics had an exercise called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down. What they meant to do was make it impossible to not practice the art of philosophy. Because if you can properly turn a problem upside down, every “bad” becomes a new source of good.

Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the exercise says, they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or, the death of someone close to you; a chance to show fortitude. Marcus Aurelius described it like this: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

It should sound familiar because it is the same thinking behind Obama’s “teachable moments.” Right before the election, Joe Klein asked Obama how he’d made his decision to respond to the Reverend Wright scandal. He said something like ‘when the story broke I realized the best thing to do wasn’t damage control, it was to speak to Americans like adults.’ And what he ended up doing was turning a negative situation into the perfect platform for his landmark speech about race.

The common refrain about entrepreneurs is that they take advantage of, even create, opportunities. To the Stoic, everything is opportunity. The Reverend Wright scandal, a frustrating case where your help goes unappreciated, the death of a loved one, none of those are “opportunities” in the normal sense of the word. In fact, they are the opposite. They are obstacles. What a Stoic does is turn every obstacle into an opportunity.

There is no good or bad to the practicing Stoic. There is only perception. You control perception. You can choose to extrapolate past your first impression (‘X happened.’ –> ‘X happened and now my life is over.’). If you tie your first response to dispassion, you’ll find that everything is simply an opportunity.

Remember–It’s All Ephemeral

“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.”
-Marcus Aurelius

I understand that entrepreneurs need to dream big and have unshakable faith in themselves in order to do great things. But if recent Valleywag headlines are any example (Cisco Exec Makes Death Threat Over $4,000 Bike), the inhabitants of start-up land can probably benefit from some practice of humility and self control. Not that bad tempers and ego are new problems.

Alexander the Great conquered the known world and had cities named in his honor. This is common knowledge.

Stoics would also point out that, once while drunk, Alexander got into a fight with his dearest friend, Cleitus, and accidentally killed him. Afterward, he was so despondent that he couldn’t eat or drink for three days. Sophists were called from all over Greece to see what they could do about his grief, to no avail.

Is this the mark of a successful life? From a personal standpoint, it matters little if your name is emblazoned on a map if you lose perspective and hurt those around you.

The exercise Marcus Aurelius suggests to remedy this is simple and effective:

“Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.”

It’s important to note that “passion” here isn’t the modern usage we’re familiar with. From Wikipedia:

One must therefore strive to be free of the passions, bearing in mind that the ancient meaning of ‘passion’ was “anguish” or “suffering”, that is, “passively” reacting to external events — somewhat different from the modern use of the word. A distinction was made between pathos (plural pathe) which is normally translated as “passion”, propathos or instinctive reaction (e.g. turning pale and trembling when confronted by physical danger) and eupathos, which is the mark of the Stoic sage (sophos). The eupatheia are feelings resulting from correct judgment in the same way as the passions result from incorrect judgment.

The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia or peace of mind (literally, ‘without passion)’, where peace of mind was understood in the ancient sense — being objective or having “clear judgment” and the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows.

For those interested in browsing the Greek words used in Stoic writing that are often mistranslated or miscontrued in English, here is a glossary of common terms.

Returning to the point of the exercise, it’s simple: remember how small you are.

For that matter, remember how small most everything is.

Remember that achievements can be ephemeral, and that your possession of them is for just an instant. Learn from Alexander’s mistake. Be humble and honest and aware. That is something you can have every single day of your life. You’ll never have to fear someone taking it from you or, worse still, it taking over you.

Tim: To illustrate a few real-world examples, here is an email from me to Ryan as we were working on this post:

Thanks, Ryan. Read it all and ran over all the material again. I think we’re getting there. The piece should be uplifting and empowering without being defensive, so it will still take some working, but no worries. I’ll be reading Epictetus tonight for more ideas. The part that bothers me is the entire “Remember you’re small” bit, which doesn’t jive with start-up founders. To do huge things, I really think you need to believe you can change the world and do so better than anyone else in some respect. It is possible, however, to simultaneously recognize that all is impermanent: the transient pains, bad PR, disloyal false friends, irrational exuberance, hitting #1 on the NY Times, whatever. I think it’s about not dwelling on pain and not clinging to ephemeral happiness. Enjoy it to the fullest (this is where I disagree with some of the Stoic writings), but don’t expect it to last forever, nor expect some single point in time to make your entire life complete forever.

*****

Stoic writings are not arcane arguments for bespectacled professors—they are cognitive exercises proven to center practitioners. To humble them. To keep them free and appreciative.

Stoic principles are often practiced in rehabilitation clinics with alcoholics so that coping mechanisms don’t drive them to drink. One wouldn’t view their new perspective on life as pessimistic or limiting; we celebrate the fact that, for their first time in their lives, they are empowered and unburdened.

We’re all addicts in some respect, and we can all experience that same freedom.

You can be a Stoic, and joke around and have a happy life surrounded by what’s valuable to you.

In fact, that’s the ultimate goal.

Stoicism is Ideal for the Entrepreneurial Life

The Stoics were writing honestly, often self-critically, about how they could become better people, be happier, and deal with the problems they faced. As an entrepreneur you can see how practicing misfortune makes you stronger in the face of adversity; how flipping an obstacle upside down turns problems into opportunities; and how remembering how small you are keeps your ego manageable and in perspective.

Ultimately, that’s what Stoicism is about. It’s not some systematic discussion of why or how the world exists. It is a series of reminders, tips and aids for living a good life.

Stoicism, as Marcus reminds himself, is not some grand Instructor but a balm, a soothing ointment to an injury wherever we might have one. Epictetus was right when he said that “life is hard, brutal, punishing, narrow, and confining, a deadly business.”

We should take whatever help we can get, and it just happens that that help can come from ourselves.

To finish, I want to share some of my favorite Stoic reminders. Look at them as short, mental routines to run through often. Each is a quick reset to recalibrate yourself and be happy with the things that matter:

***

Marcus Aurelius

“So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature and what I do by my own.”

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.”

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own–not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”

“Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”

***

Seneca

“‘What progress have I made? I am beginning to be my own friend.’ That is progress indeed. Such a people will never be alone and you may be sure he is a friend to all.”

“Show me a man who isn’t a slave; one who is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear. I could show you a man who has been a Consul who is a slave to his ‘little old woman’, a millionaire who is the slave of a little girl in domestic service. And there is no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed.”

“Count your years and you’ll be ashamed to be wanting and working for exactly the same things as you wanted when you were a boy. Of this make sure against your dying day – that your faults die before you do.”

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

“Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything that is in her power.”

***

Epictetus

“So-and-so’s son is dead
What happened?
His son is dead
Nothing else?
Not a thing.

So-and-so’s ship sank
What happened?
His ship sank.

So-and-so was carted off to prison.
What happened?
He was carted off to prison.
-But if we now add to this “He has had bad luck,” then each of us is adding this observation on his own account”

***
Related Post:
Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You


The Stoic Reading and Resources List:
(Note from Tim: I have bolded my favorites, the first two from Seneca)

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
Dialogues and Letters (includes “On The Shortness of Life”) by Seneca

The Meditations (Gregory Hays translation. I strongly recommend this translation over all others. It’s the difference between liking and hating it.)
The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Pierre Hadot
Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault by Pierre Hadot
The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters
To Philosophize is To Learn How to Die (essay) by Montaigne
Discourses and Selected Writings of Epictetus by Epictetus
An Essay on Marcus Aurelius by Matthew Arnold
An Amazing Lecture Series on Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism
A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe (Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities etc, wrote an epic book that is a modern allegory of the teachings of Epictetus)
Seneca on Trial: The Case of the Opulent Stoic The Classic Journal, Vol. 61, No. 6 (1966)
Rudius Media Book Club Discussion of Stoicism (led by Ryan Holiday)

Have you seen?
Tim Ferriss on TechCrunch’s Crunchbase
Tim Ferriss on Google Profiles
Tim Ferriss on MySpace

Posted on: April 13, 2009.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

338 comments on “Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs

  1. “Is this what I used to dread?”

    I think this quotation is worth it's weight in gold. When you are pursuing something big – as an entrepreneur does – it seems like every bump in the road and every barrier or setback bears your ultimate doom. In retrospect, most of these perceived disasters either turn out to be little more than annoyances or even opportunities. I've often found it helpful, when in the thick of it, to think about “how bad can it really be?” By playing out the worst case scenario, it's possible to diffuse the fear of the situation and concentrate on the opportunity.

    Thanks for a great post. I've been reading Tim mention Seneca for some time now. Perhaps now is the time to pick up some of his writing.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    Like

  2. There's a certain appeal to Stoicism; especially to me and others like me: more and more connected-yet-distanced from each other.

    I appreciate your write-up and how you connect this philosophy with modern life, yet I'm also glad that few of my friends are full-blooded Stoics.

    Like

  3. I co-majored in philosophy and stoicism was one of my favorite philosophies because it is a practical application with uses in any situation. My experience is that most people do not react well to a stoic take on seemingly unfortunate events. Most people look at it as inconsiderate but really its just the best way. My other favorite philosophy is Socrates' dialogues. His philosophy about death is great: 'if there is a heaven I was a good man, and if there isnt and it is just a long sleep then I welcome that too' paraphrased. Thanks for the late night post, and the site update for mobile.

    Like

  4. Tim has often referred to Seneca and, being unfamiliar with his writings, I never quite understood why? Now its all very clear. There are so many parallels between the Stoic philosophy and Tim's approach to life in 4HWW and beyond.

    I'm not religious. I don't follow a creed or doctrine. But the Stoic philosophy appeals greatly.

    Great post. Brilliant information.

    Thx Ryan and Tim.

    Like

  5. Hey Tim,

    I took your advice and brought Seneca with me on a mini retirement to Greece. It was life changing. Our society seems to have shifted into books like the Secret that just don't seem to posses the depth and practical applications that these principals do. Great work.

    Rob

    Like

  6. Thanks Tim and Ryan for giving me (and I'm sure countless others) the impetus to further explore the Stoics. Have added your suggestions to wishlist for next order and must read bookmarks.

    “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” – Marcus Aurelius

    Like

  7. I am currently reading Letters of a Stoic, on Letter XL. I underline about 2-3 phrases per section. One of my favorites so far is

    “'Any man', he says, 'who does not think that what he has is more than ample, is an unhappy man, even if he is the master of the whole world.'”

    Like

  8. When I took Philosophy in college the professor never framed the message in a way I found practical for business and in turn I never found philosophy very appealing. Turning negatives into positives is a huge concept for budding entrepreneurs as there are a lot of ups and downs in building a business. I think every person who is getting beat down by entrepreneurship should read both this post as well as the one on emotional highs and lows.

    Thanks Tim and Ryan for putting an entrepreneurial spin on Stoicism for us!

    Like

  9. People interested in stoicism would do well to check out “A Guide To the Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy” by William Irvine, which provides an effective primer like this article, gives you the history of many of the stoics mentioned, and provides stoic philosophers views on things common in daily life. It's the most useful book I've ever read.

    I think one of the things I've gotten out of stoicism, and something that people often forget about stoicism, is that stoics have a duty to society, and that it is everybody's obligation to figure out what they're best at and then do the sh*t out of it. I think that right there is the basis for entrepreneurialism.

    Like

  10. Doesn't everyone think like this naturally? Does it have to be a specific mindset?

    Tim/Ryan, was your real world example a showcase of your own self barriers? Why does “remember you're small” bother you? I think it's important to remember where you're going and what your goals are, and to observe where you currently are given the gravity of your goal… and if you're always thinking big, aren't you going to always remember that you're small? That works!

    This trick is it being non-linear, doing it all at once and that both excites and humbles you.

    There is no right/wrong there are just opinions given ones perception, or popular opinion based upon time and place.

    I guess my observation is do what works for you and create the rules as you go along.

    Like

  11. Also, another tip:

    There are just things happening in the world – nothing else. People just add meaning and stories to situations, when the truth is, it just happened. It is difficult for people to accept this concept for sensitive situations, though, when you boil it down, strip away all added-meaning and story.. it's just something that happened.

    I think a part of using that concept and living in this society is marrying the thought with human empathy. It doesn't ''mean'' that you look at everything and are 'cold' towards it, just that you should understand the base 'truth' of what happened – which is always just an action; all the while connecting, listening to and understanding the vast majority of people who don't look at what happened with the same concept of thought.

    /end my random thoughts :p

    Like

  12. Really weird I found this today- my wife accused me of be stoic last night and I took offense- never saw myself as such, but it is true- just did not like the negative implication and bears truth to the idea that most people do perceive it as my wife put it as being a pr*ck.

    Like

  13. I am convinced that the more you attain in life the more it becomes an endless poker game..the best things are still free.

    For the ambitious there is ultimately one necessity-
    wisdom: study, practice, refine, repeat.

    Other terrific reads are The Art of War, The Prince, and An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life

    Great post Tim and Ryan..the stoics were responsible for arguably the greatest empire in history …

    Like

  14. For me, Monday morning is generally set aside for reading (and, wow!), what a pleasure it was to start my day along with this post.

    In reading it, though, I was quite intrigued by how it appears to mirror certain tenets of Buddhism in many ways. . .and the core principle of seeking a certain “detachment” from life's ephemeral “problems” and our own insecurities is almost “right on” with Buddhist teachings. It's quite fascinating, actually.

    I often wonder how much of these teachings were shared across the world through explorers and traders, and how teachings that we currently attribute to one individual or region of the world have actually materialized from interaction between different peoples and geographic regions. Tim, or other folks reading. . if you know of any research in this area, could you point me in the right direction, please?

    Ryan, I'm curious as to if you've had any experience in finding ways of sharing this sort of content with people who can be somewhat averse to opening themselves up a bit to new ideas/ways of thinking. This is one of my own personal challenges, I guess. . .you see, as an entrepreneur and a guy who is always open to any new learning experience, I'm an easy sell when it comes to broadening my horizons. . .particularly with a “wee bit 'o philosophy.” But sharing this great stuff with others I find difficult, as I think a lot of people not instantly intrigued by it, find it to be preachy instead. Any insight/tips you can provide? This is also something I pointed to when Cameron posted his “Manic…” post here some months back as well. Sharing this insight with family members and team members so that they too can attempt to understand the entrepreneurial mindset is often the toughest sell.

    I'd love to hear your feedback.

    Cheers,
    Doc

    Like

    • Yes, the same thought crossed my mind in regards to the similarities of Buddhism and Stoicism. the detachment, the focus on right attitude and right actions. Underlying it all we have the notion of the impermanence of all things, how ephemeral life is. As I read the article I was struck how the two were almost interchangeable soo…good point Doc!

      Like

  15. Thanks, Tim! This is timed perfectly, as I'm feeling today as a new starting place as I move in a new direction with a number of projects. I've been feeling that my Good is getting in the way of Great right now. Seneca's ability to come face to face with the worst that could come, and laughing in the face of it is exactly what I need right now. Thanks!

    Like

  16. I would second the recommendation for Tom Wolfe's “A Man in Full”.

    I've read it numerous times, but it has been years. I will need to dig it out – thank you for the reminder.

    Like

  17. This article is a taste of sweet white honey. Wow, it is a refresher to read this stuff and it is important to practice humility and free ourselves from unnecessary anxieties. Thank you for the friendly reminder.

    Like

  18. I am amazed at how easily things come into your life just from a thought. This was the exact article I needed to read today. Byron Katie is one of my favorite teachers of Stoicism and I didn't even realize that is what she was teaching. Just one more affirmation that it is time to blow the dust off of some of the skills that I have learned and use them.
    Thank you for sharing such an insightful and inspiring post.

    Like

  19. Thanks for writing about this. I remember Seneca from high school Latin class. Then, I started reading his books a couple of years ago and was blown away. This was right before I heard about The Four Hour Work Week; so Tim's book struck a cord with me due to the Stoicism references. I am happy that Tim's business advice is in line with what I already believed; this makes it very valuable to me and a practical tool that helps me do business the way I had always wanted to, but didn't really know how to yet. Your most recent posts are outstanding.
    Thanks again,

    Joe

    Like

  20. This summary of Stoicism was great in that it hit key points. I lost my book by Seneca on a plane in Thailand but think I will go pick up another copy today.
    This last quote by Seneca is AWESOME:

    “Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

    Best to you,

    Jose Castro

    Like

  21. I'll add one more to “Remember you're small”; “Remember you're large”. That is, just as we are individually insignificant on the astronomical and geological scales of time and space, we are enormous on the molecular scale, and in terms of evolutionary complexity. There will always be constructs that are smaller and larger than ourselves; that fact by itself means little, but it helps keep our human-scale ambitions and limitations in perspective.

    Like

  22. Sounds great. Excellent advice. But I must call bullsh*t on the credibility credentials of a 21 yr old. It may be high stakes decisions for his company who sells tshirts using scantily-clan teenagers, but let's see how he handles the real world. Sustain these principals when you are 40 yrs old, have a mortgage, house, wife, about to be laid-off from your corporate job and are figuring out how to pay for your kids college.

    Ahhh, when I was 21, I was quite the fearless animal too. It reminds me of that Buddhist story about how easy it is to be a monk who meditates in the mountain cave all day. That's easy. Try keeping that mindset when you are in the crowded village with a bunch of jerks everywhere. There's your test.

    Great philosophy though. Excellent advice. If more Americans subscribed to this, we would be in a different place.

    ###

    From Tim: I'm not sure where this anger come from, Starfruitman, but I don't think it's necessary. His credentials for what? I've known Ryan for years. Age doesn't automatically qualify or disqualify someone for using Stoicism well with real problems. I also know plenty of older people whose “experience” is simply the same mistakes repeated year after year. I think it might make sense to take a breath and give Ryan the benefit of the doubt, especially since you've never met him nor — I suspect at least — read some of his other work. He's a bright and immensely capable person.

    Best,

    Tim

    Like

  23. Hi Tim & Ryan – I followed the links and as a result read a large chunk of Pierre Hadot's book. Particularly fascinated to read that Epicureanism wasn't what I thought it was. Seems to me that this philosophic school has a relevance to us today. Nobody reading this blog needs to be told the translation of Horace's “Carpe Diem”, but who amongst us knew that it's from the epicurean school?

    What are your thoughts on Epicurean philosophy ?

    Like

  24. Hey Tim & Ryan,

    Thanks for sharing guys, this is helpful presentation. Don't know if I can follow you on certain points. However, I appreciate the practical, real world approach. Action rather than abstract, mindless debating… I'm all for it. :)

    I really like, “To the Stoic, everything is opportunity.” This is how I approach situations, so I guess I fall in line with Stoicism at that level, haha… who what of knew! Like everything, weaknesses are therein, for example, it's easy to discuss perception and emotion, and how it should be controlled but we all know it's easier said than done.

    Most people lose the battle, I've seen sharp people, at least intellectually, that have the emotional age of a 14 year old. It's difficult, for many because most don't think about their preconceived ideas or perceptions.

    We just look at the world around us (worldview) without stopping to examine the lens we gaze through to see the world around us. It will always be easy to accept things based on our (lens) but harder to stop and maybe admit, we need to change the lens if possible, because if those speckles are changed the outcome, perception and views change will it. Something to think about. :)

    Thanks again for sharing.

    -Mig

    Like

  25. Stoicism really is european version of zen:

    # You face your misfortune with smile
    # You strive to be present at the moment
    # You understand that you are not a sum of your past, nor your future

    I don't really think that philosophy generally isn't useful: In closer inspection many philosophers that are traditionally not regarded as stoicistic seem to express same bright ideas (except perhaps that post-structural lesbian feminism…).

    These ideas tend to show themselves in different names in all philosophy, from Wittgenstein to Jesus, or from Freud to Swedenborg – It's a matter of perspective.

    Like

  26. I am always looking for a way to express the practicalities of my own mix of zen, Taoism, God, etc.

    This article really helps put a tactile element into words on all the ideas listed in the comments as well.

    Tim. It would be really cool if you could talk about the changes in others of reaction to people who work on your ideas. Like how once you work on the path of Humility others begin to raise you up. Etc.

    I suggest this because I think people like to see results for their efforts but may have trouble seeing them unless they are shown how to recognize it. Do you think its a good idea?

    Like

  27. Amazing material.

    Self-help is nothing new :)

    I love this kind of practical writing/ It's awesome to read this on a big blog like Tim's and I can only be happy of it.

    I tend to naturally have a “stoicisim mind”. I remember not being afraid of a particular situation and have 2 people around me going crazy only because I wasn't runing link a chicken without his head.

    Stephen Covey Law N°1 is exactly that “choose your response to a stumuli”.

    Please share this knowledge !

    Like

  28. Yes, in everyone's life “Karma Happens”. As a practicing stoic, which I never would have thought of myself as such until I read Tim's blog, I do practice clearing out my compulsions and impulses using the R3X methodology or processes and find myself becoming more “stoic”, although I was describing it as more Zen or Buddhic too. Since doing my own clearing work I notice that as I am relieving myself of a lot of franticness I notice how frantic people around me are being, by their own unwitting choice.

    The quote on my wall from Mellen-Thomas Benedict (or Near Death Experience fame) is “The Balance of finite order and infinite chaos is the Key. Being Clear is the Way to Master the Key”. Isn't this what the stoics where resolving within themselves and their environement?

    Like

  29. “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own–not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.” (marcus aurelius)

    This quote will make it hard to adhere to this principle..

    “Returning to the point of the exercise, it’s simple: remember how small you are.” (ryan holiday)

    A lot of these principles are great, but they are better outlined in the New Testament by Jesus. If you have a problem with all of the salvation, spirituality and supernatural, just filter it out. The principles are still better laid out there than in the writings of Stoicism

    Like

  30. You wrote: “Stoic principles are often practiced in rehabilitation clinics with alcoholics so that coping mechanisms don’t drive them to drink. One wouldn’t view their new perspective on life as pessimistic or limiting; we celebrate the fact that, for their first time in their lives, they are empowered and unburdened.”

    At some point in my own Clearing work I realized that for the first time in my life, and was also empowered and unburdened by standing up and saying the truth about myself and my then condition as it truly was. Facing the truth of my condition helped to rise above it.

    Like

  31. I loved this- it's totally practical. I remember when my single mom died suddenly and I was orpaned at 16, and the school councellor kept at me “you must be ANGRY, your mother left you, she abandoned you, you must be mad at her and God” and I was like well actually lady, my mom died, she didn't leave me on purpose, its nobody's fault, people die…Of course I was unbearably sad, I STILL miss her to this day, but I had to accept that reality, and doing so definately has shaped my life. I mean, I'm not the one who complains about traffic or the weather, sheesh!…my philosphy has been regardless of what is happening 'hey, its ok, nobody died…' and absolutely nothing stops me from being happy or creative/productive/successful in my endeavors. I mean, we can't always choose our experiences, but we can choose how we 'experience our experiences'. Life is cute! Thank you Tim and Ryan xo

    Like

  32. Many, many kudos for bringing an unfashionable, badly perceived but extremely important subject – philosophy – to bear on modern life and entrepreneurship in particular.

    As a result of entrepreneurial activities I'm going through bankruptcy – it is not an easy time to put it mildly. But, you go through the worst case scenario and realise the world hasn't come to an end. Also, as the article points out, new opportunities inevitably present themselves and… What doesn't kill you makes you stronger (Nietsche (or was it Kanye West)).

    Personally I think stoicism syncs very neatly with buddhism.

    Finally, I'd personally recommend Nasim Taleb – brilliant stuff (and predictor of the financial crisis). A mathematician, he points out that basically, the only thing you control is how you face the firing squad. (Have a nice day!)

    Like

  33. Today's blog was one of the best. And so appropriate to the times we are facing today. I think Epicticus was a little to cold for me. Especially with respect to someone's son dying. A circumstance that is every parent's nightmare and to not experience the pain fully would be assinine. Pain and grief are a part of life that should be experienced. However, after time, life must go on and from that experience I imagine something can be learned. Having said that, I know I was at times, nearly paralyzed with fear of something happening to my son in my early parenting days. That certainly wasn't constructive, didn't protect him, and if anything, dampened the joy of parenting.

    Like

  34. Wise words, well written. Simple ideas like, “Drink and be merry for when you’re dead you will look like this,” are the ones that you forget first when times are hard and worries gnaw at your mind.

    Remembering at least this would be a good place to start….

    Like

  35. Great post, great topic
    Here's where i take issue (and perhaps someone could straighten me out on this): All things being equal, if a sage holds that he is “immune to misfortune” because events are inherently neutral (they have no +/- value beyond that with which we imbue them through our impulses), wouldn't he also have to accept that he is immune to good fortune?
    It would seem that you could never say anything insofar as an event being good or bad, whether it was, suffering physical pain or winning the lottery.
    Bottom line, if we remove our impulses (that which guides our senses on the positive or negative nature of a given event), how do we know what's good?, What to shoot for? What actions are appropriate? – Maybe I've gone and boiled things down to far; thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Any input that might help me back up a few steps would be appreciated. Thanks
    Ben

    Like

    • When I understand that (1) events themselves are neutral, and that (2) I have complete control over my response to events, then I am more than immune to any “fortune”. I actually have the ability to imbue as much + (or -) to each event as I want to!

      Since our natural impulses are unreliable at best, however, your question is very valid: where to go for a reliable basis of what is “good”? Put another way, how can I learn to act in a way that guarantees genuine, grounded “happiness” as the product of any given experience? Is it possible to react to everything in a positive manner?

      In my experience, yes, it really is! It requires work of course, but it is possible, and the work pays well!

      The Bible, just as it is written, forms the basis of my values. From it, I learn what is good, what to shoot for, what actions are appropriate.

      I am a Christian and love God: Therefore, I know that all things work together for my very best–no exceptions! I have personally experienced this 100% of the time throughout my own 28 years, I know people who have testified of the same after having lived a long life serving God, and I have full confidence that, as long as I continue to love God (which means keeping all of His commandments, which are simple and easy) then I will always experience that this is true.

      Does this mean I receive the very best in life, 100% of the time? Yes! Does this mean I get rich in all earthly things, and am always popular with everyone? No! Not necessarily. But it DOES mean that (1) I become rich in all eternal things–such as kindness, patience, generosity, and all other virtues–(2) I get “popular” with God, and (3) I receive all the earthly things that I truly need.

      If you choose to subscribe to another belief system, then someone else will have to try to help you. Personally, I know without any doubt that real Christianity–following the example of Christ and therefore becoming like him more and more–is the best way to live. It is making me genuinely happy, regardless of any event or person that comes my way. The One who put the whole Universe together is my friend and “caretaker” and guide for life. I haven’t found anything more certain or ultimately fulfulling, and I am personally acquainted with hundreds of other people–young and old–who happily witness to the same.

      P.S.: These core ideas are taken directly from the Bible. I didn’t include references above, but in case someone wants to know, Philippians 4:8, 11-12; Romans 8:28; 1 John 5:3; and Matthew 6:33 form the basic framework.

      P.P.S.: Yes, this is a lengthy response to a 1.5 year old comment. It helped me to write it though, so even though nobody else will probably read it, someone still benefited. :)

      Like

  36. IThere is a great primer on Stoic Philosophy from The Teaching Company; http://www.teach12.com. It is called:

    Practical Philosophy: The Greco-Roman Moralists

    Course No. 4473 (24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)

    Taught by Luke Timothy Johnson
    Emory University
    Ph.D., Yale University

    This is the guy that wrote “The Real Jesus”, a landmark piece of scholarship about 10 years ago on the theology of Jesus.

    Good stuff. Highly reccommended. You can play these tapes, CDs, or mp3s while jogging or commuting. It is a fantastic use of dead time.

    Like

  37. Great post… I love Seneca's first quote. Basically, if you wouldn't be friends with yourself, then who else will. It gets to the core of it all. I need to pick up the Seneca book, this stuff is too good to ignore :)…

    Make your own Good Luck,

    Dana

    Like

  38. The Stoics are interesting as a piece of intellectual history, but a lot more interesting, empirical work has been done very recently by positive psychologists, affective neuroscientists and “happiness” economists to see which ancient prescriptions actually work. Bruno Frey, Richard J. Davidson, and Richard Layard have posted pdfs of their work on their websites, which can be read for free on a variety of topics: the efficacy of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices on general mood, neural plasticity and immune function, the effectiveness of cognitive therapy on depression, the role that television viewing plays in modulating people's moral conduct, whether those who are self-employed enjoy greater life-satisfaction. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's work is also worth looking at, though I'm not sure that he's posted any of his articles on his sites.

    Like

  39. I loved this post. The Stoic teachings remind me of the work of Byron Katie (aka The Work). She invites people to question any belief that is causing them pain and to turn these beliefs around. I knew her teachings echoed Daoism in some ways, but it seems like Stoicism is even more in line with her work. I'd recommend her to anyone who has ever had a negative thought, and I'd be interested to hear what all you Stoics out there think about her!

    Like

  40. @Sean

    Socrates was an expert at spiritual exercises. If you can run a Socratic dialog on yourself you can convince yourself to abandon almost any negative or destructive thought.

    @Doc,

    The Hays translation of The Meditations is so basic and so straightforward that I have a few copies I like to give to people. It sells itself. One of the important tenets of Stoicism though, or at least where it differs from Christianity, is that it's not necessarily evangelical. We all have a lot of work left to do on ourselves before we should worry to much about converting others.

    Like

  41. This from the wikipedia page:

    “For nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to you in life, and always to look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value everything has with reference to the whole.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, iii. 11.

    That is so Tim! :) Thanks again for pulling into light something I knew in the back of my head, but didn't know how to articulate.

    Like

  42. “…., yet I’m also glad that few of my friends are full-blooded Stoics.”

    Craig what would you do if more of your friends were Stoics?

    After reading about happiness by Dalai Lama, I understod that “pain” is in your mind, and wheather you are happy or not is your own decision.

    When my friends complain about their lives I remind them of these teachings, and that usually starts an argument :0)

    Why is it that we think that our happiness is dependent on the right life partner, the right boss, the right weather, more money or something else?

    This renders a tremendous feeling of personal power.

    Like

  43. The Meditations (Gregory Hays translation. I strongly recommend this translation over all others. It’s the difference between liking and hating it.)

    I totally agree. I tried reading Aurelius many times and was always left feeling I didn't get it… until I found Hays' translation. Worth its weight in gold.

    Great post!

    Like

  44. this is timely. after waiting in the ATL airport (avoid it like death) for 4 hours i boarded airtran (also not super pleased) and proceeded to head straight into a storm. it was bumpy. sitting in business class (someone has 50 bucks!) made me even more nervous as the crew looked at each other and winced as the plane shook. (i wonder what the elevation drop is at 400 miles an hour 30,000 feet above the air when you get that weightless feeling? 5-50feet?

    my companion latched onto me and buried her head in my chest as she clutched my favorite scraparondacks.org organic teeshirt.

    the scene from fightclub where ed norton's plane gets ripped apart came to mind, as well as the satanic verses where in the opening chapter the two protoganists fall 30,000 feet)

    but then i realized that death would be quick. other than the free fall. and me not wanting to lose my life, (and that of my kids as they were two rows behind me) in a moment of clarity it became clear there was nothing i could do to save my life and thus i resigned my self to death. all the projects, dreams, etc would vanish with my passing and that was that.

    when i came across your posting on stoicism it dawned on me that that's what was guiding me on the time. a little fear gave way to wtf. i won't remember a thing.

    Like

  45. Another inspirational post. I took some philosophy at University, mainly Logic, but I didn't get very far into the history of it.

    On my path of being a better person, increasing my education and delving into my fears and failings, I evolved a state of mind that follows the Stoics very closely (I just never had a name for it). I even took a course that 'preaches' this exact mentality – 'everything is meaningless, people make the meaning.' It truly made concrete this way of thinking for me.

    There are so many great quotes up there that It's hard to pinpoint one in particular, but this one hit the nail on the head for me:

    “Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.”

    Perceptions are everything, when you are confronted with any option, a choice arrises, not only in the interaction, but in your mind. Your perception of the situation creates the meaning and that is what you will take away with you.

    @Sean I agree whole heartedly agree with you how others can view this approach to life. I am often considered somewhat aloof in situations, even cold or distant. Mostly because I don't break down and commiserate a misfortune in the same manner as might 'normally' be the routine of society. It can be unsettling, but then again, if I don't put much meaning into it and I can continue to walk tall in my understanding of myself.

    Like

  46. Interesting article. I wasn't familiar with Stoicism.

    Long ago when I would tell one of my confidants about a perceived problem I was having, she would always reply, “What are the facts?”

    The facts were always irrefutable. What I had been “thinking” and “feeling” were always the real issue – and the moment I realized this, the problem always lessened.

    Like

  47. great stuff. Really enjoyed the article. Most I will take some I will leave. really interesting was the link to Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You. Being in business reminds me of waitressing

    Like

  48. One of my favorite posts! Have already forwarded it to several fellow entrepreneurs.

    I'm taking a great class on Meditation/Buddhism, the concepts are incredibly useful and practical yet very few people consider them because Buddhism is obscured by different religious practices and intense academic debate that loves to use words like “soteriological.”

    This stuff is changing people's lives for the better, let's get it out into the real world where people will actually pay attention to it!

    A great practical and short book on meditation and why it's good for you:

    Bhante H. Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

    @Ryan Running a Socratic dialogue on yourself sounds similar to performing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – a very successful modern technique for treating psychological disorders simply through talking

    Like

  49. One of my majors was philosophy and don't remember any of my fellow philosophy students ever talking about Marx or post-structuralism of any kind. And I don't remember those even being the subject of elective courses, let alone required courses for graduation. And I went to a liberal school. I do remember poli sci, history, comp lit types talking about that stuff. And Marx was mentioned in my economics courses, not favorably.

    And turtlenecks?!

    Like

  50. Albert Ellis is worth including here. Although he invented the field of “Rational Emotive Therapy,” he always acknowledged his debt to Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. The thing that earns him a place in this pantheon is his acerbic sense of humor, and the vigorous effort he made to distill these insights into very pithy and actionable exercises. A great place to start is his book, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything – Yes, Anything!

    Like

  51. I recently heard author William B. Irvine discuss his new book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy on the radio. Really interesting. Podcasts with him are probably out there.

    Like

  52. @Ed,

    The turtleneck anecdote isn't meant as a slam towards all philosophy majors. My brother was a philosophy major at NYU, and there are intelligent, humble students of the craft, to be sure, as well as practical courses. Unfortunately, to fill four years of class time and debate, this major also tends to attracts some people who are very fond of intellectual tail-chasing with semantics vs. applications. My brother would be the first to agree on this. Be that as it may, some of my favorite courses at Princeton were in the PHI department — Professor Rosen's class on Epistemology and Metaphysics was amazing. Not as immediately relevant as some of the Stoic writings, but thought-provoking all the same.

    Hope that helps and thanks for the comment,

    Tim

    Like

  53. @Ben,

    You wrote:

    “Here’s where i take issue (and perhaps someone could straighten me out on this): All things being equal, if a sage holds that he is “immune to misfortune” because events are inherently neutral (they have no +/- value beyond that with which we imbue them through our impulses), wouldn’t he also have to accept that he is immune to good fortune?”

    Yes, this is indeed my biggest criticism of Stoicism, as it can be used to turn one into an automaton of logic. I hope to explore in future posts how I combine it with elements of Epicureanism and Buddhism to emphasize the + elements, not just avoid negative overreaction.

    Good observation and thanks for the comment!

    Tim

    Like

  54. @JC,

    Epicureanism has some real gems, and I combine it with Stoic principles, along with some Buddhist state-awareness practice. I find it's possible to cultivate logic and non-overreaction (Stoicism) while still enjoying the little things (Epicureanism) and focusing on the present moment (Buddhism) instead of excessive planning or regret.

    Best,

    Tim

    Like

  55. Interesting article, but I don't know if I can buy stoicism. Perhaps I don't understand it fully, but only changing my perception doesn't have any affect on reality. It just allows me to live in my own world.

    I know myself well enough to believe that I am inherently evil. Even if I convince myself otherwise, my actions demonstrate that I am evil (yes, I know this bring up the debate of what is evil). And that's just my point, there must be an outside party to gauge right and wrong. This doesn't occur in stoicism.

    Like

  56. Very edifying! Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were on top of it!. Another great stoic to remember is the great Zeno of Citium.

    I think we can also look to Nietzsche as an ideal for the entrepreneurial mindset. “On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow. “

    Like

  57. @Ryan

    “We all have alot of work left to do on ourselves before we should worry too much about converting others.”

    Amen…A philosophy to live and die by. There is a vast difference between preaching and a sharing information, violent faith and healthy debate, the search for knowledge/personal growth and the appearance of knowledge/self importance.

    @Tim

    A bottle of wine someday to you. The book and blog have been of more use than than years of school.

    Like

  58. @Carter

    It is EXACTLY like cognitive behavior therapy. The two are very similar and I think that's why it has been so effective for 2,000 years.

    @Jack
    Christianity v Stoicism is an interesting discussion all by itself. For some reason, Christianity viewed Stoicism as a threat early on (even though Christianity came after) despite how similar they are. John Stuart Mill once asked whether the world would be a better place if people replaced the Bible with Aurelius' Meditations. For me though, I like Stoicisms emphasis on taking responsibility for oneself rather than giving it to God. Prayer is much more theoretical and mental than the Spiritual exercises are.

    Like

  59. @ Tom
    “What are the facts?” is a perfect modern translation of a Stoic exercise. A common theme in Epictetus and then later in Marcus is to look at a situation and say “What part of this is under my control and what part is out of it?” Then only worry about the first part.

    Like

  60. This makes a lot more sense to me than 90% of the Law of Attraction material I see. Thank you for a stimulating read with practical application to the thrills and chills of self-employment.

    Like

  61. @Ryan & @Tim in the post, “Stoic writing” is presented as a “Meditative Technique”. Can you be more specific as to what Stoic writing is?

    Is this journaling with the perspective of the 3 Stoic principles you are pointing out in the post or is there more to it?

    Do you practice Stoic Writing daily, weekly?

    Like

  62. fantastic post! Reminds me much of what several others have said, very Buddhist. Or is Buddhism just very Stoic? Did a 10 day silent retreat with a Vipassana group in Japan once (Vipassana being a very odd form of Buddhism for the Japanese!), and this post brings me back to those basics. Breathe. It's just perception. Oh, you feel pain? What is pain? It's just that, pain. Nothing more nothing less, unless you give meaning and emotion to it. Lovely way to be this gorgeous Spring day. Thank you.

    Like

  63. Tim,

    Excellent recruitment for the post my friend!! Thanks for posting as I cannot wait to delve into deeper thought on these prinicipals and how they can positively effect not only my life, but the lives of those around me.

    Always,

    Lee

    Like

  64. @Chris

    Marcus wrote a large part of Meditations on campaign in Germany. The Stoics often wrote in the morning and at night as a well to prepare and reflect on the day. It's meditative primarily in the sense that the intended audience was often THEMSELVES and not other people.

    So when Marcus writes “Remember to always…” what he is sort of saying is “Marcus, I am reminding you to always…because you forgot it earlier today and it caused you problems.”

    I try to do it as often as I can. On my site, my goal is to digest what I'm learning out loud as way to hold myself accountable through my readers but I like to observe the same principles.

    @Sherry
    I think the fairest thing to say is that they're both equally similar to each other. It's probably a good thing that they developed the principles independently of each other because it means there is some deep human truth to them rather than just “respect for something old”

    Like

  65. Just speaking from experience, good applied philosophy is usually very technical and of more value to people working in related technical fields: AI, statistics, informatics and theory in the various special sciences. Their work isn't entirely impractical, it's just not immediately applicable. For example, the Robot Scientist that recently got so much press has its design rooted in a formal ontology (the product of computational metaphysics), the hypothetico-deductive model of explanation that comes from a long tradition in the philosophy of science, and the graphical approach to causal modeling that has depended in no small part on the work of philosophers at Carnegie-Melon. I presently work as a researcher in neuroscience at UCLA (but I have a PhD in philosophy). Very few neuroscientists can give you much practical advice on what to do with your brain, beyond what everyone already knows (don't get hit in the head, avoid booze, get plenty of rest, etc.). In the same way that most neuroscientists are not in the business of giving practical advice about brain maintenance, most philosophers are not in the business of giving practical advice about how to get knowledge and regulate your emotions. Until philosophers learn how to implement their theories in the form of demonstrably useful tools themselves, they'll likely retain their unfortunate reputation. But that's really where the rubber meets the road for any theoretician…in the tools that they develop or that others develop inspired by their ideas.

    Like

  66. Thankyou, there are times when I think wow who are you and then other times when I want to give you a huge hug full of appreciation! I think the latter wins out in the journey of life. Great one, big Thanks

    Like

  67. awesome stuff Tim!

    by the way, I could be wrong but II think were you wrote;

    “THOUGH my preferred Stoic writer, Lucius Seneca, I’ve found it to be a simple and immensely practical set of rules for better results with less effort.”

    you may have meant;

    “THROUGH my preferred Stoic writer, Lucius Seneca, I’ve found it to be a simple and immensely practical set of rules for better results with less effort.

    all the best

    Like

  68. also;

    “someone is probably TRY to pull something over on you.”

    may have meant to be;

    “someone is probably TRYING to pull something over on you.”

    btw, I'm happy to proof read for you Tim. I can offer fast turnaround and excellent results (for free). Let me know if you're interested.

    Like

  69. My way of life is to think every breath I take is wonderful.
    Stoicism is very similar but adds a practical way to think about it.
    I love the part about turning mistakes into opportunities. Now it is going to be great when I make mistakes… :P
    I will definitely find a book on stoicism, very soon… And the 4-hour work week! lol

    Like

  70. I very much liked the article. However, I have to make this point. Do it, Do it, Do it!!!
    Being in politics since a very young age, I know the difference between an opportunist and a stoic. Your example of Mr. Obama's response to the Rev Wright issue left me wondering where that came from. Knowing a little about what happened there I would assume you are aware that he sat in the pew for 20 years and and called the Reverend his mentor but then threw Rev. Wright figuratively under the bus. By the way, the speech he gave on race was developed much earlier for a special occasion. Knowing he was having this issue, he decided to use the speech at that time rather than later. Stoic? I don't think so.
    I've been trying to come up with a politician who is also a stoic. Perhaps Abe Lincoln best fits that mold.

    Like

  71. Ryan and Tim,

    Do you have any personal internal “markers” you use to know when you are beginning to swing too far into either “this is awesome!”-land or “it means nothing/I am small”-land and need to do something to pull back?

    I find for myself that I know when I've gone too far into feeling enthusiastic because, while there are visions of desirable outcomes in the forefront – of course a lot of fun to mentally play with, I also sense a kind of frenzied energy underneath. At that point, I feel like I may have set myself up for the downward slope (and sometimes my internal response to subsequent events shows this may be the case). Still, I find it difficult to sense the connection with the things and ideas that inspire me to move in certain directions when also trying to maintain equanimity. Actually, now that I think about it, I do keep moving, but there's so much third-party observer aspect to it, I'll have this sense of “I remember this felt really important to me at one point” and it feels strange to be moving proactively without as deeply feeling why I'm doing it in the first place. Yet, I know maintaining a level, logical perspective is vital.

    Having said that, for you, what is the internal “staying connected” experience like when equanimity maintenance is also a priority?

    Also, have you found stoic philosophies to be helpful in dating and relationships? I'm serious, but I'm laughing right now because I just envisioned a dating website with photo mascot/concrete bust of Seneca at the top. Instead of wishing everyone the best in the search to “Find Your Soulmate”, the tag line might read “Enjoy yourself, but let's keep it in perspective, shall we?” I wonder how many memberships they would sell?

    Thanks,
    Alison

    Like

  72. Is this what I used to dread?

    The tension went out of my body when I read those words. Here I am worrying about how to buy some new clothes for from fear of how I look. The quote put it into perspective for me. It does not matter what other people think of how I look.That gives them power over me. My jeans ripped are my uniform to humbly remind myself of what is important. Not new clothes. No a different perspective on how to look at yourself first. Face your fear and learn the lessons life has to offer us. A case in point. The current recession has gotten everyone worldwide scared. I say is this what I dread? Not having the lifestyle before the money dried up? The recession is a natural reset economic button. We got to start 2009 fresh. Take this time to really find out who you are? What you want? Where you want to go? Why you want to do it? Who will be along for the journey? When will the changes begin. How will you make them happen? How will you treat the recession as a gift?

    Like

  73. With regard to the bit about remembering you are small while having the boldness to believe you can change the world:

    There is a Buddhist saying, “Act as if the fate of the world depends on your every action while laughing all the time that anything you do makes any difference.”

    Like

  74. One more comment. Seneca's writing can be found at
    http://www.stoics.com It has the following writing online:

    Cicero's De Officiis,
    Seneca's Moral Essays (3 vols),
    Seneca's Moral Epistles (3 vols),
    Plutarch's Lives translated by North (3 vols of 8),
    1 volume of Plutarch's Lives translated by Dryden,
    Castiglione's Courtier,
    Erasmus's Christian Prince,
    Elyot's Governour,
    Sidney's Arcadia Book I (index only),
    Spenser's Faerie Queene (Books I, II, and VI),
    Montaigne's Essays (3 vols) translated by Florio,
    James I's Basilikon Doron, and
    Hall's Character

    Like

  75. HI TIM, YOU ARE RIGHT. My comment above was completely uncalled for and unnecessary. I woke up in a foul mood. I apologize and it won't happen again. Please delete my post.

    Like

  76. @ Leonard – good for you :) “How will you treat the recession as a gift?” – I love this, I think it's important to make lemonade out of lemons, for lack of a better term right now. So many are riding the “woe is me” wave right now, when there are truly a lot of treasures out there right now…

    Like

  77. @Leonard,

    I would actually recommend NOT reading the free online texts. Some are as much as 100 years old and written in a completely different style. Part of the reason that philosophy is so inaccessible is the reliance on old texts that use colloquialisms the reader no longer understands.

    Marcus never said “Thou” and that phrase was only common in English for a few centuries. In 2009, using thou instead of “you” is alienating.

    The new translations are fantastic. Try them.

    Ryan

    Like

  78. Have a look at Alain de Boton's Consolations of Philosophy – a great book that helps the individual explore some of the greatest themes of philosophy through a simple, practical lens.
    Keep it simple,
    Simpletom

    Like