“Waste no time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” - Marcus Aurelius
As someone with a YouTube channel, frequently discussing Stoicism, the above quote is a concern for me. So, in order to combat merely discussing Stoicism and not applying it, here are the 11 Stoic steps to actually be a “good man” in daily, modern life.
This routine is split into three parts: a Stoic morning routine, Stoic concepts to apply in daily life and a Stoic evening routine. Each section should be easily applicable and flexible so that you can apply them, no matter how busy you are. My goal is to end the question: "how can I apply Stoicism in daily life"!
An Essential Introduction To Stoicism
Before we can dive into the Stoic principles, we must have a basic understanding of the magic of the Philosophy of Stoicism, and why people started to flock to it.
Now, first things first, Stoicism states that the whole purpose of mankind is to "follow nature". At first this seems cryptic, but it can be split up into two different parts: following the nature of the individual (you as yourself); and the second will follow the nature of the world in general.
On top of this, Epictetus wrote a general broad statement that encompasses the whole of stoicism
"Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control, under our control our conception will the way that we define things, intention, the voluntary impulse to act aversion, the desire to avoid something, and in a word, everything that is in our own doing, not under our control, or our body, our property, reputation, position, in society, and in a word, everything that is not of our own doing."
To combine the two above theories: the things that are under our control, our own voluntary thoughts and actions, we should be doing them in harmony with nature. And what that means is we should do everything that we can to control that, we should be doing it with wisdom, and other forms of excellence.
Those things outside of our direct control, we should accept, and we should love them. Not only should we recognise that we can't control them, but we should love the fact that they happen, because that's just the way the world works.
Applying Stoicism by following nature in this way has a long string of beneficial effects: freedom, fearlessness, overcoming irrational fear and desire, absence and distress, serenity, and a smooth flow of life.
So you can see that living in this way, in harmony with nature, leads us to have a good life.
Stoic Morning Routine
The way you start your morning will have a huge effect on the rest of your life, so make sure you consciously craft a morning routine that fits with you and your own goals - it will pay dividends.
Stoic Exercise 1: Stoic Meditation and A View From Above
The first way to live life as a Stoic is to meditate. Now, I know you might be thinking: this is Buddhist! But I think you should take time in the morning to just calm yourself down and relax. This way you're creating a "gap" between you and your busy day. In that gap you can start to proactively engineer your dream life, instead of reactively responding to daily tasks.
Once you're in a clear mental headspace, you can take the view from above - an exercise taken straight from The Philosophy of Stoicism. What a view from above means is you should view where you are in life as if you're looking at yourself from a third person view. So you can see how you fit into the universe. This will allow you to see how small all of your problems are. And you can be grateful for everything that you have. That is what a view from above does. And I think that meditation is something that everyone should be doing, whether you're stoic, whether you're not stoic.
If you want more information about this, watch this video:
You can also watch this guided meditation to get a better understanding of the idea:
Stoic Exercise 2: Negative Visualisation
So the second thing I think that any stoic should be doing as part of their morning meditation will be taking negative visualisation of the day, you should be thinking ahead of all of the activities that you're going to be doing throughout the day, and just think about what could go wrong.
Now, you're going to do this for a few reasons. First of all, when you think negatively about the things that could go wrong about the future, and you at least consider them, well, if they do happen, you're gonna be so much less hurt.
I really like this quote from Oliver Burkeman who is a British journalist he states that negative visualisation is:
“Confronting the worst case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety inducing power. Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle, negative visualisation generates a vastly more dependable calm.”
If you expect or at least consider the chance that they could happen, something negative, you'll be prepared to happen in the future, what I was referring to earlier, is an idea that one's happiness levels are inversely proportional to one's expectations. The Youtuber Dan Mace once said Happiness = Expectation/ Reality. According to the formula, it is a failsafe way of sustaining high happiness levels is to maintain low expectations. This therefore means that one’s happiness levels are inversely proportional to one’s expectations.
Stoic Exercise 3: Contemplation Of The Sage
So the third and final part of the perfect Stoic morning routine will be contemplation of the sage. Put simply, you think about someone that you aspire to be like, maybe it's Batman, maybe it's Marcus Aurelius, maybe it's some figure in history, or even a filmmaker. Then, you think about them. Consider how they conduct themselves throughout the day, what decisions they make, and just contemplate the sage.
If you can imagine yourself as the person that you want to be, when you're confronted with a decision (e.g. should I stay in bed?), ask yourself:"what would the person I want to be do?".
It's impossible for you to get closer towards the person you want to be if you never think about them. Habituating the process of contemplating a "better you" is the first step in improving your life.
If you can start your day with those three Stoic exercises, you'll be well on your way to becoming "a good man".
Let's get on to apply Stoicism in daily life.
How To Be A Stoic In Daily Life
Starting your morning with a Stoic morning routine is a great start, but it's even better to learn how to apply Stoic concepts in daily life. The following Stoic ideas can be applied any day, every day, just as you're going about your daily habits.
Stoic Concept 1: Be Aware Of Your Character
The first one for the ultimate Stoicism daily routine is to be aware of your character throughout the whole day. This involves you constantly bringing your attention back to yourself, and being aware of the decisions that you make.
The aim here is to constantly act like you were a "good", noble person. Now, I'm not saying that you're not noble, but the most effective way to become truly noble is to act truly noble.
Now I know this sounds weird, but hopefully Epictetus can explain it better than me (the following paragraph is paraphrased for better understanding).
When dealing with day to day life, be like a passenger who has briefly gone ashore on a cruise: keep one eye on the boat at all times (on your character) and be prepared at any moment to have to run back to the cruise at the call of the captain (i.e. to abandon externals and give your whole attention again to yourself, your own attitudes and actions).
As if you were walking barefoot and cautious not to tread on something sharp, be mindful continually of your character, and guard it against being harmed by your own foolish actions. All of your attention should focus on the care of your mind.
In response to every situation in life, ask yourself what virtue nature has given you to best deal with it e.g. courage, restraint etc., and continually seek opportunities to exercise these virtues.
Stoic Concept 2: Indifference and Acceptance
The second part of your incredible Stoic daily routine is indifference and acceptance. Imagine that everything that happens to you, you chose it to happen, accept it and love it. The famous German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche puts it perfectly:
“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger”.
So no matter what happens, even if at first it seems negative, flip it around and see the benefit of it. Reframe every negative event to make it positive, or at least indifferent.
An easy way to do this is to remind yourself that any negative event is an opportunity to exercise your virtues e.g. patience. Why would you not choose to love love and accept the things that happen to you? We have a super power - we can change how we perceive events - so choose to perceive all events that happen as something positive and good.
This is called cognitive distancing - separating yourself from your emotions. Now I know that when you're thinking when you hear this - I can see the red flags going up and sirens are going off in your mind. But let me be clear exactly what I mean. Don't detach yourself from your emotions, don't ignore or suppress your emotions. Instead, place yourself further away by them not to be swept away from them when they are negative, or even when they are positive. At first, positive emotions that you may be receiving may not actually be beneficial for you in the long run.
So when you feel an emotion, whether it's negative or positive, just delay your emotion just a little bit and let yourself consider whether this feeling you receiving is actually positive for you, or negative view. This is actually possible! It just takes a bit of conscious effort and practice over time.
For example, if you just won a huge hand on your first game at blackjack, you're going to have incredible intense pleasurable emotions. Do you want to associate gambling with pleasurable emotions? No, I’m sure you don’t, so just step back from the situation. Distance yourself cognitively. And ask yourself do I really want to be feeling these emotions about this event?
Stoic Concept 3: Empathetic Understanding
When someone acts in a way that seems to you irrationally, you've got to remember that to them - that is all they know how to do.
Don't immediately judge them. But instead view that actions for all that they are because you don't know their intentions. You don't know whether their intentions were positive or negative, was at first, it may seem obvious that their intentions were negative, just step back and say, are they really doing something that they know is negative? Or are they just doing it because that's what seems best to them at the moment in time.
Stoic Concept 4: Stoicism And Physical Exercise
Now, yes, when you first think of this, or when you first hear this, the world is going to join your mind is going to the gym. And yes, that is good. But you should also be going to the gym not just to get bigger or to get stronger - but to train the muscle of discipline.
There's this one exercise that I like to do in the gym where I go over to one of the cables, and I do bicep curls and a weights that is really light. Now I know that I can do maybe 20 or 30 reps without tiring. But what I do is when I get to 30 reps, I say "great, wow I'm going to practice discipline". And I see how many I can get. And I really push myself this with this light weight, and I just keep going and I keep going going to keep going.
And every single time I go a little bit more to prove my discipline is getting a little bit longer, a little bit greater. And every single time I push myself as hard as I can to practice the muscle of discipline.
Now there are lots of other ways that you can do this. For example, Epictetus talks about when you are thirsty, you take a drink of water, you swirl it around your mouth, and you spit it out, just because it acts against what your body really wants to do. And you can also do things like going to bed without a little bit too cold or going out in the street, just wear clothes that are a little bit colder, a little bit rougher, a little bit itchy. Maybe you'd could go on a water fast. Where you only drink water for 24 hours.
The point is, put yourself through physical pain to train your discipline
Stoic Concept 5: Impermanence and Acceptance
Recognise the shortness of everything that happens in your life.
This too shall pass.
And remember - the quote above applies to happy emotions, or negative emotions, or problems that you're having.
Don't let yourself get swept up in an emotion. Don't let yourself think "this is so bad. It's never going to go away. This is my life. Now I'm doomed. This is my fate."
Remember the shortness of everything that happens.
And that also includes remember the shortness of your life. Stop getting swept up in thinking that you are the centre of the universe, recognise how small a part of the whole universe you play a part of.
This doesn't act as a way to diminish yourself and to devalue yourself. That just means that all the problems that you have are normal, human problems. So many other people have had the same problems. But that means that so many other people have overcome your problems.
So when you have a problem, and you think, "Oh, it's so unfair, why is this happened to me" recognise that there are so many people that have had exact same situation as you and lots of people are in worse and worse situations.
Pretty much always, someone has been in a worse position than you and have overcome your problem. And if they can do it, you can too. So recognise the impermanence and the shortness of everything that happens in your life.
Stoic Evening Routine
There are two parts of the stoic evening ritual that I like to use. And one of them is really, really effective. So let's get right into it.
Review Your Day
First of all, and every single day I do this, I sit back, and I review the day. But not only do I think back on what I've done throughout the day, once I do it again, and I do it a third time, by going over what you've done the day three times you able to dissect it in a way that most people don't do.
When you start using this technique and you start dissecting your day and reviewing what you did three times, you'll gain an insight that most other people won't have, you'll be able to dive deeper into your mind, recognising what actions you do and what decisions you make.
Now, there are three main questions that I asked myself. First of all, I say, "what did I do well today?" That includes what virtues I followed and what decisions I made that turned out well.
Then I ask "what did I do badly today?". Were there any decisions I made because I was emotionally all over the place. Which decisions weren't the best decisions? Did I act irrationally at any point?
And after I've asked myself that question, I say "How can I improve in the future?" What will I do to right this situation? What can I do make sure I make the right decision if it comes up again in the future. Now, if I've acted irrationally, and I let my emotions get the better of myself, generally, what I tend to tell myself is before making a big decision, just take five seconds to centre yourself and become a rational being like the stoic recommend, that is the first thing that you should do as part of your evening ritual.
Rest and Relaxation
So the final thing is, you guessed it, rest and relaxation. Now, I don't want us to think of it just as that just before you go to sleep, I want you to recognise the dichotomy of control. Recognise that everything you've done in the past, and especially that day, is no longer in your control, you can't change what's happened, what you can do is change your perception about what's happened. I love the fact that you might have made wrong decisions, because that will make you more motivated and it'll give you a greater likelihood, make the right decision in the future. Learn to love the past, even if it wasn't the best day because what's gone is the past you can no longer change it.