If Stocism began today, it would be classified in the “no-BS” school of thought alongside the likes of Mark Manson and Rolf Dobelli who prefer to slap you in the face with the unblinking truth rather than coddle you until you see the light.
That’s what I love about Stoicism—it’s straight-forward and applicable.
Stoicism’s central tenet is that the world is unpredictable and life is brief. If you grasp this, you’re already way ahead of the curve.
By radically accepting those two facts, we dramatically decrease the amount of grief in our life. The majority of our frustration and pain comes from attempting to control the uncontrollable and extend the un-extendable.
Despite the inherent powerlessness in such a concession, we do still hold incredible sway over our own state of mind.
The majority of our frustration and pain comes from attempting to control the uncontrollable and extend the un-extendable.
The main things detrimentally affecting our state of mind, Stoicism argues, are destructive emotions and futile thoughts—both of which we can control by changing our perspective and practicing a few of the strategies listed below.
By implementing these strategies, we’re exercising control over our inner state. This changes how we react, how we interpret, and how we move through life. And that is how we begin to cultivate peace.
There are very few moments of pause in a typical day; we tend to sprint through preparations and practicalities until the day is done.
We wake up, grab a coffee, go to work, come home, deal with the kids or whatever responsibility awaits us, and go to sleep.
Even the natural breaks available, such as waiting in line or commuting to work, are filled with catching up on emails, scrolling Instagram or listening to a podcast.
Not that any of those time-fillers are inherently bad—emails need to be answered sooner or later—but continual input and consumption trains our brain to be in constant motion. Then, when the times comes for a clear mind, say, before bed or before an important meeting, our mind is sorely out of practice.
We’re surprised at our racing thoughts and busy mind, yet we’re the ones feeding the habit.
When the times comes for a clear mind, we’re sorely out of practice.
Sure, we can force our mind to “slow down” by distracting it (think TV or alcohol), but we’re just postponing the inevitable. We turn to numbness instead stillness.
A moment of doing nothing, while seemingly ineffective and inefficient, is in fact an essential reprogramming process. Your mind is essentially starved of things that feed its frenetic pace as it settles into a slower pace. Soon, your brain is able to step into this state more easily and quickly.
By cultivating moments of stillness, you allow space for peace.
Establish a Code
Part of what robs our peace is constant decision-making.
Steve Jobs was known for his classic black turtleneck and jeans. This wasn’t a fashion decision, it was an economical one. He didn’t want to waste precious resources (time, energy, and attention) on an irrelevant (to him) decision such as choosing an outfit. He saved his resources for bigger decisions in the day. He avoided decision fatigue.
Every time we address situations on a case-by-case basis, we expend a considerable amount of energy. We want to examine the individual merit of each circumstance that comes up, but sometimes a blanket “no” is our most powerful ally.
Rolf Dobelli positions inflexibility as the ultimate strategy when it comes to simplifying our lives. Sure, we’re excluding many possibilities and options, but research has proven that we find plenty of choice to be paralyzing anyways.1
Sometimes a blanket “no” is our most powerful ally
Part of how we can address this is by having a personal code or framework by which we live our lives. Identify your core values—the non-negotiables—and make a commitment to live by them.
Dobelli gives the example of Clayton Christensen, a management expert and Harvard professor, who made a commitment not to work on the weekends and to have dinner at home with his family on weekdays. He had witnessed too many people in his position work indiscriminately during their younger years so that they could enjoy their later years, only to discover that by the time their later years arrived, they had no one to spend it with.
An extra benefit: You insulate yourself against people testing your limits: “By being consistent on certain topics, you signal where you stand and establish the areas where there’s no room for negotiation.”2
Having established your code and prepared your blanket “no”, your mind has less to attend to and is left in peace.
Peace is less about adding something of value than it is about removing things of little value.
In a world of 7.7 billion people, there are a lot of opinions on what you should do, what you should think, and who you should be. What’s worse is that we’re injudiciously exposed to all of them via this hyper-connected online world we’ve created.
There are most certainly people whose opinions and perspective add tremendous value to our life. Those are generally easy to identify and those relationships should be cultivated.
More insidious, however, are the opinions we unconsciously pay heed to purely because of their ubiquitous nature (think: social media, circle of acquaintances, and social trends). We often conflate visibility with validity and give more weight to those external opinions than to our own.
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinions than our own.” — Marcus Aurelius
That’s a lot of noise.
Seek to narrow your field of focus; remember, there’s actually very few things we need to have an opinion on. There’s little need for your take on someone’s choice of partner or someone else’s take on your choice of career.
Focus on what’s important—strengthening your opinion of yourself by being present, kind, understanding, and disciplined—and the rest will take care of itself.
By giving less weight to irrelevant opinions—and holding back on giving unsolicited opinions—you create space for peace (for yourself and others).
Implementing some of these Stoic strategies in your daily life are sure to quiet some of the noise and cultivate a peaceful state of mind. Try driving to work in silence or unfollowing some people on Twitter. Try finding one thing you can consistently give a blanket no on.
Test them out and take note of how it feels. Apply some ancient wisdom to your modern life. Create space, encourage stillness and welcome peace.
- Iyengar, Sheena S., and Mark R. Lepper. “When Choice Is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 79, no. 6 (2000): 995–1006. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.115.
- Dobelli, Rolf, and Caroline Waight. “The Pledge: Inflexibility as a Stratagem.” In The Art of the Good Life: Clear Thinking for Business and a Better Life, 11. London: Sceptre, 2018.