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How to Optimise Your Life According to the Stoics
The practical advice of the old stuffy guys from way back when
I hate to be one of those nerdy people that come online and profess their deep love for something, you know, nerdy. But, I’m sure we all have our moments of fulfilling the tropes that exist around us. Of course I’m a writer who loves philosophy. Of course I look for self-growth wisdom in the fountain of knowledge from some old guys who lived thousands of years ago. Come on now, folks.
There’s something in particular about those Stoics, though. They’re just the most practical guys…ever. Stoicism is an action-oriented philosophy that purports that happiness is found in the acceptance of the present, emotional resilience is key to navigation of life, and the only thing under our control is our mind and perspective.
And now, it is of great privilege to round up the unplanned Stoic philosophical trilogy, with Seneca.
Here are some of my favourite Stoic teachings to help you level up on your own journey.
Key Summary (TL/DR):
Unleashing the power of the mind
When preparation meets opportunity
Being a temporary fool
Unleashing the power of the mind.
One of the major contributors to the Stoic philosophy was Marcus Aurelius, a former Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher.
Author of the world-famous ‘The Meditations’, Aurelius shares his insights and beliefs about the world — beliefs I believe are key to helping you change your life’s perspective.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”
A beautiful fact of life is the control we have over our minds and perspective.
The human mind is as expansive as it is powerful — we get to decide how we see, think, and consider the things that occur to us. Your superpower comes from deciding how you live your life.
Perhaps it’s time to stop letting the negative words of your colleagues deter you from pursuing a business. Perhaps it’s time to shake off the trauma of parental abuse and decide to be the person in your family to campaign against domestic violence. Perhaps it’s time to stop letting outside events dictate your emotions and feelings, and dictate your feelings and emotions according to your fundamental beliefs.
Your entire life will change when you realise that it isn’t just events that shape your life — but the very way you think can ultimately shape the reality that you live in.
When preparation meets opportunity.
Seneca was a towering philosophical figure and continues to be hailed as one of the godfathers of Stoicism. Born in Spain and educated in Rome, he was a political adviser to emperor Nero and an esteemed playwright. Although he had a colourful life story — involving exile, adultery, and gripping political turns — Seneca looms as a larger than life figure with an uncanny ability to create philosophically-sound tidbits to help you practically navigate life.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
I’m sure we’ve all heard some variant of this line. It exists in all the bestselling self-help and entrepreneurship books. The point is this — you cannot wait for a magic wand to make your life better. Luck is not something that simply happens but requires active preparation for opportunities to latch onto.
In other words, you must be ready now rather than wait to get ready later. How prepared are you for your viral moment? Your salary raise? Your six-figure business? Will you be ready when the opportunity for these things to come into fruition occurs? Or are you waiting for the opportunity to come first? Seneca has a point.
To be lucky, you must fulfill your part of the equation.
Being a temporary fool
Epictetus is one of my favourite Stoic philosophers. He stands a little apart from Seneca, the esteemed adviser, and playwright, and the might Roman Emperor Aurelius. Epictetus had pretty humble beginnings. A Greek philosopher of 1st and early 2nd-century C.E, he was born a slave to a wealthy household.
It was only when his owner Epaphroditus permitted him to pursue liberal studies, he discovered philosophy. His teacher and mentor was Musonius Rufus, and from that moment onwards, Epictetus was setting himself to be one of the most influential figures in Stoicism and philosophy more broadly.
Some of us are more caught up in what other people think of us. We forget what ultimately matters — our growth and self-progression. The more you worry about what other people think about you, the fewer risks you’ll take, the fewer questions you’ll ask, and the fewer breakthroughs you will experience.
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”
Epictetus reminds us that the acquisition of real, powerful, and transformative knowledge requires just that - transformation. You must be willing to forgo your ego and look stupid on the come up. And that’s okay. Some of the most intelligent people in the world came up against roadblocks which made a mockery of them. We are all stupid before we become enlightened.
We are moving further and further into a world more concerned with the appearance of looking intelligent rather than pursuing intelligence. Don’t let that be you.
Ask those questions.
It is now more important than ever, to ensure you feel more comfortable with being a temporary fool and pursuing ongoing intelligence, rather than looking temporarily intelligent as an ongoing fool.
Epictetus, Aurelius, and Seneca were onto something — alongside all the other Stoic philosophers in the tradition. There’s just something so powerful in taking life by the bull horns and not letting it trample all over you.
There’s also something about being practical and action-oriented in the way you navigate life.
If you’re always on the move and ready for the battle, whether in the short run or the endgame, your stoicism means that things will always work out in your favor.
That’s all from me this week folks. As ever, if you found this useful, feel free to share Optimise Me with a friend.
Let’s all become better humans.