How can I begin practising Stoicism today?

Where to begin? 

 

One of the first questions people ask is, how do I begin to practice Stoicism? Well, it begins with

you; start by looking within, learning to understand yourself, your thoughts and how they

affect your actions.

 

Thankfully, you don’t need much to begin practising the doctrines of Stoicism. You do not need a

plethora of books, in fact overwhelming yourself with information is actively discouraged; they

believed a multitude of books just gets in ones way. Sometimes to learn more you need to read

less.

 

Inner reflection and specifically journaling are two critical components of Stoic practice (followed

by acting upon those reflections). Taking the time to think, to look at yourself, your thoughts and

your actions.  

 

Consistent and constant practice is next, especially in the early days Seneca tells us the flame of

virtue is fragile to begin with. 

That is the only way to master Stoic doctrine -  practice, practice and more practice. There is no

shortcut and there is no hack; we must conduct what Seneca called hard winter training, this is

what you must commit yourself too. Every single day pen should be put to paper and the

doctrines must be at the forefront of your mind. 

 

Finally, the questions we ask ourselves when we reflect and write are of particular importance. 

 

Marcus Aurelius said: ‘The quality of our life depends upon the quality of our thoughts’ - the

quality of our thoughts depend upon the questions we ask ourselves. It has often been said that

the key to wisdom is knowing the right questions. 

 

Questions force you to think and had a special importance to Socrates who said, 'A life of asking questions,’ which is what philosophy is, ‘is the greatest good of a person'... ‘to find yourself, you must think for yourself,' and that ‘the unexamined life was not worth living.’

 

So to start practicing Stoicism this second, all you need is a pen and paper to write with, or something to type on. The first exercise to practice Stoicism is to find out what in your life is in your control and what is not.

To begin, ask yourself:  In my life right now, what is in my control? - eg. thoughts, habits, acts, how you respond to situations, etc...

 

Really take your time and be thorough in your answers; it doesn’t have to be perfect, just get it out, this is for nobody but you. 

 

Then ask yourself the following: 

 

What is not in my control? - eg. economy, weather, other people, ect...

 

What could I change right now if I wished? 

 

How much time do I spen ruminating over the things I do not control? 

 

Do I spend more time thinking about things in my control or things not in my control?

 

When I feel emotions (anger, jealousy, anxiety) do I yield to them? Do I allow them to overtake my mind? Why do I let this happen? Am I a slave to emotions or do I believe there is something more divine and powerful inside of me? 

 

If you decide to take Stoicism to heart and commit yourself to its practice understand that at first it will be hard and it will be difficult, you will begin to fully appreciate how strong your emotions and impulses are. You may struggle to put your thoughts to paper and that is fine; you don’t walk into the gym for the first time, master a workout routine and bench 100kg. 

 

Be kind to yourself and look for gradual improvement, not instant perfection.

 

The more you practice and commit, the better you will become at embodying stoic doctrines. All you need to focus on getting the basics right and having them ingrained into your minds eye. 

 

A Beginners routine 

 

This may be titled a beginners routine, but it is a useful framework for anybody no matter how long they have followed Stoicism and is the routine I still follow after nearly a decade of practice. The routine itself is directly inspired from stoic texts. 

 

Excellence is nothing more than doing the basics really well. If you can master these doctrines then you will be well equipped for life.

Below is a blueprint, not a rigid framework, and you should allow yourself some creative freedom to tweak it, if need be, to fit in with your life. 

 

Morning

 

(Time permitting) read a passage from the Stoic texts or recite Marcus’s wakeup speech: 

"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 cannot tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognised 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. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.

 

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?

So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?"

You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you."

 

Ideally do the below as a visualisation exercise, it will help you remember it throughout the day, but if you prefer you can journal. 

Amor Fati - reflect and think on what you have to be grateful for in life at this moment; what resentment from the past do you need to let go of? How will previous painful lessons help you in the day to come.

 

Premeditation Malorum - Prepare for what may go wrong during the day and how you will respond (what virtues or traits can you display in the face of what may happen?)

 

A firm grasp on reason - What Maxims do you have at hand for the day? 

 

Ideally spend around 20 - 30 minutes on this morning routine, if you do struggle for time an absolute bear minimum of ten minutes. 

 

Lunch 

 

Set an alarm if possible; review the day so far, what you will do for the rest of the day, ideally do this visually as well  - you do not not need to write. 

Evening 

 

Journal - hold your day up for review (do not visualise your review, make sure you put pen to paper)

 

What you did well?

What you did not do so well?

Compare today with the previous days journaling, have you made progress?

Goals for the next day. 

Weekly reflection - Every weekend write a weekly reflection looking back over the past seven days. 

 

Monthly Review - Every month write a monthly reflection, going over the month.

 

6 month review -  How much progress you have made, what are you like now compared to then? Do you notice any improvements?

 

Annual review - What has been achieved over the year? How different are leaving the year to what you were entering it? 

Core doctrines

 

We also recommended that you have a particular focus on one of the Stoic doctrines each day, more information about them can be found on our home page. With exercises and quotes to get you started, the choice is up to you. 

 

If you do decide to have a theme for each day, try to spend around 30 minutes, or so, dedicated to a particular concept.

 

Monday - Memento Mori

Tuesday - Premeditatio Malorum

Wednesday - Amor Fati

Thursday - The Inner Citadel

Friday - A firm grasp on reason 

Saturday - The Cardinal Virtues

Sunday - A view from above. 

Spend at least a good 30 minutes in the evening after you have done your evening reflection.

 

Lastly - do more, say less; do not brag about practicing Stoicism, or tell people that they should act Stoic and regurgitate a quote without taking the time to understand their situation. Work in silence, and let the results show in your actions. I will leave you with the words of Epictetus...

 

‘Never call yourself a philosopher. Don’t talk among laymen for the most part about Philosophical principles, but act in accordance with those principles. 

For sheep don’t vomit up their fodder to show the shepherds how much they’ve eaten, but digest their food inside them, and produce wool and milk on the outside.’

 

Initial reading list

 

If you aren’t in a position to purchase these books, they can be accessed for free online.

 

This is the order we recommend reading them in:

- Epictetus Enchiridion (The Handbook)

- Marcus - Meditations

- Senecas letters 

- Epictetus - discourses. 

 

Further reading 

Coming soon...