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The Stoicism Teaches You To Go From Worrier to Warrior

The Stoicism Teaches You To Go From Worrier to Warrior

I was talking with a buddy the other day. We were on a long drive to a annual little golf event we do with a few pals, and we were talking about worry and stress while aiming high in life.

He's an interesting guy, not a reader, but an observer. He'll take his lessons from life rather than from a book, and he's been able to see the uselessness of worry for a long time and simply opt out of it while doing big things in his realm. 

The stuff he was saying has been known for thousands of years, which is why I tend to take wisdom that's stood time's test rather than anything new. It's just clear-thinking, understanding that some things are worth our time and energy and others aren't, they're fruitless, even destructive.

The wisdom behind the Stoic's outlook on worry has passed time's test as the best way to deal with issues out of our control, which is what worry is. And some of us need to read to find clarity, to create a robust way of thinking so we can move through our struggles without them altering our positivity, but also our enjoyment of life - which they shouldn't.

Struggles are constant, especially if you're aiming to achieve, but enjoyment of life should be as well, it's not something that has to depend on how things are going in life.

Worry is a universal human experience. It's that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach, the restless nights, and the constant overthinking that can rob you of your peace of mind. It's also something that cannot exist in the moment, only coming when we think about what may happen in the future.

In the 3 main Roman Stoics, we have a billionaire merchant, an Emperor who was the most powerful man in the world, and a slave, each prescribing to this similar philosophy on one how ought to live and think, and endure.

In this article we'll pick out the main points, use examples, and give you all you need to achieve all that your intelligence and aptitude for hard work will get you, without that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach that really has no place being there in the first place.

Control What You Can, Release What You Can't

One of the core principles of Stoic philosophy is the distinction between what is within our control and what is not. Epictetus, a former slave turned philosopher, emphasized this in his teachings:

"Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions."

Understanding this distinction is crucial. Worrying about things beyond our control is futile. Instead, we should focus on our responses, our attitudes, and our actions. By doing so, we regain a sense of agency and calm.

We can, for example, control the work we do, the discipline we have, but we cannot control the outcome. Worrying about the result of our work is useless. The worst that'll happen is that we learn a lesson.

Even if we lose it all and end up on the street, we have the skills to come back out of it, to build ourselves and our lives back up, and worrying about that unlikely outcome just takes away from the good in life, which is us actually being alive, as well as our performance.

Michael Jordan, for example, as well as Kobe, always said they never worried about a make or a miss late in the game. All you can do is do the work, and take the shot. If you miss, so what? You'll get another chance to make it.

The Story of Stilbo

Seneca, another towering figure in Stoicism, often illustrated his points with vivid anecdotes. One such story is about Stilbo, a philosopher who faced immense personal tragedy:

"After his country was sacked, Stilbo lost his wife, his children, and all his property, yet he emerged from the burning temples with a cheerful countenance and, when Demetrius asked him whether he had lost anything, he replied, 'I have all my valuables with me.' Pointing to his mental faculties, he declared that he had retained everything truly his."

Stilbo's response is a powerful reminder that while external events may devastate us, our inner virtues and mental faculties remain intact. This perspective helps us focus on what truly matters and diminishes the weight of external losses.

To be that extreme is unrealistic, but even think about things, what are they, and why are we afraid of losing them?

Much of our fear exists around going back to where we were, in other words, losing what we've acquired. But Frank Sinatra famously said, "We're renting", when he gave his cufflinks to a fan. They're just things, same with our home, car, everything. 

Seneca would practice this. He'd live as a homeless guy for a few days every so often. One part of this is learning to be grateful for what you have, the other part is understanding that you're still alive and well even if you lose it.

Even if our biggest fears do come true, life is still technically 'good', if we make it so.

Much of my worries and fears come from not being able to achieve what I want to achieve, what that gnawing ambition I have tells me to create in life's various arena's. That, too, is stupid. Yes, stupid, not just silly, but stupid.

Life is short. We get to choose how we live while we're here. Enjoying life as it is, enjoying the process of creating something, a family, a business, a great life, is important.

Talk to any successful person in any endeavor and they'll tell you to enjoy the process, that the practice is the fun part, the struggle is what they look back on with fondness. 

Whatever you're in, be in it, enjoy it, don't worry about the future, just take care of what you can.

Of course, if we're lazy, we deserve a bad outcome, and it just is what it is. If you're doing the work and being disciplined, worry should not be a part of your thoughts.

The Impermanence of Worry

Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor, the most powerful man on the planet, and a philosopher, who often reflected on the transient nature of life and worries. In his personal journal, "Meditations," he wrote:

"Consider that before long you will be nobody and nowhere, nor will anything which you now behold, nor any of those who are now alive. Nature's law is that everything changes and passes away."

In short, our current worries are fleeting. In the grand scheme of things, our anxieties are temporary. By accepting the impermanence of our concerns, we can focus on the present moment and on excelling in our current endeavors.

Mastery Through Focus

The Stoics believed that by directing our energy towards what we can control and by accepting the impermanence of external circumstances, we can achieve mastery over our minds and lives. Marcus Aurelius advised:

"You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."

This strength comes from disciplined focus and consistent effort. Instead of being paralyzed by worry, channel that energy into improving your skills, building your character, and contributing positively to the world around you.

I've heard Naval talk about the concept of compound interest. It's the idea that, in life, our skills and effort compound, but so does laziness and sloth. 

Over time, he says, we get what we deserve. So, just give it time, and keep working. Don't take the 'we get what we deserve' in a negative light, take it as a challenge. If you want happiness, work on it. If you want a great family, be habitual about it. It's essentially a culmination of the daily choices we make.

If we skip workouts and eat fast food, we'll likely die young and be overweight. Simple. Do the opposite.

Practical Steps to Apply Stoic Principles

1. Identify Controllables and Uncontrollables: Make a list of your worries. Categorize them into things you can control and things you can't. Focus on actionable steps for the former and practice acceptance for the latter.

2. Practice Mindfulness: Regularly remind yourself of the transient nature of your worries. Meditate on the idea that all things pass and what truly matters is how you live right now. Worry also exists in the future, while regret exists in the past. Stay present and focused and you give your worries and fears no room to grow.

3. Cultivate Inner Virtues: Strengthen your inner faculties—wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. These are the "valuables" that can never be taken from you, regardless of external circumstances.

4. Stay Present: Engage fully in the task at hand. By immersing yourself in what you're doing, you reduce the space for worry to occupy your mind.

5. Reflect Daily: Take time each day to reflect on your actions, attitudes, and thoughts. Use this reflection to align yourself more closely with Stoic principles.

Conclusion

The Stoics provide a robust framework for dealing with worry. By focusing on what we can control, accepting the impermanence of our concerns, and dedicating ourselves to present actions, we can cultivate a resilient and peaceful mind. As Marcus Aurelius wisely put it:

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts."

Embrace the Stoic way, and transform worry into wisdom.

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