3 Disciplines of Stoicism: Action

5 minutes reading time

There are three primary disciplines that other Stoic practices flow from. Perception. Action. Will.

Perception: Seeing clearly, without letting emotions cloud your judgement.
Action: Take action on those things that are right.
Will: Accept willingly the things I cannot control or change.

It’s time to take action. Not just any action but the right action.

How to recognise a Stoic

What is right action? To answer that, let me pose you another question. How do you identify a Stoic? There’s no uniform, no specific gender or race “requirement”. Instead, they are recognisable by character, through their actions. How they act; how they respond; their ethic.

It’s not enough to just think Stoically. Sure, it starts there, and we’ll come back to this shortly, but you must act. Stoicism is very much a practical philosophy, to help you in your daily life. You can’t go through life without taking action.

Purpose

Good people will do what they find honourable to do, even if it requires hard work; they’ll do it even if it causes them injury; they’ll do it even if it will bring danger. Again, they won’t do what they find base, even if it brings wealth, pleasure, or power. Nothing will deter them from what is honourable, and nothing will lure them into what is base. Seneca

First, come thought and study. You must decide for yourself what values and principles you want to uphold so you know what your right action can be. The Stoics have plenty to say, so seek them out and decide for yourself how you want to be.

We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching, and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application—not far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech—and learn them so well that words become works. Seneca

While Stoicism could be called dogmatic, it is also open to change. It generally espouses universal and timeless truths which you can use to guide your judgement and action.

Won’t you be walking in your predecessors’ footsteps? I surely will use the older path, but if I find a shorter and smoother way, I’ll blaze a trail there. The ones who pioneered these paths aren’t our masters, but our guides. Truth stands open to everyone, it hasn’t been monopolised. Seneca

There are plenty of sayings and quotes from people who would not consider themselves Stoic, and there are many great people who can inspire you and aspire toward. Be open.

It is worth remembering that it is all a process. You won’t wake up tomorrow with entirely clear principles and values. Again, taking action and living with intention will reveal them.

Made for work

Then we need to get to work. Throughout Stoicism, there is an ethic of hard work and purpose. To achieve anything, from personal mastery to career success we cannot be afraid of putting in hard work.

It starts with getting up. Starting your day right. Know that everyone struggles with it at one time or another.

Whenever you have trouble getting up, remind yourself that you’ve been made for the purpose of working with others, whereas sleep is something you share with dumb animals. It’s our own natural purpose that is more fitting and more satisfying. Marcus Aurelius

The obstacle is the way

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism teaches us to cultivate discipline and focus. The natural culmination of this is taking action. Obstacles will naturally loom in front of us. Taking action means confronting them, and turning them into opportunities. As long as we take action, the worst case scenario is that we fail. But when we fail, we have learned something new. Something we can use when we consider the next step.

As Ryan Holiday noted in Ego is the Enemy, taking action is all about showing up to train, whatever the weather.

Build habits and rituals

Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running… therefore, if you want to do something make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead. The same principle is at work in our state of mind. When you get angry, you’ve not only experienced that evil, but you’ve also reinforced a bad habit, adding fuel to the fire. Epictetus

We become what we do. Our rituals and habits shape us. Choose practices that will mould you into the person you want to become. The third discipline of Will comes into play giving you the grit and determination to succeed.

One of the most important daily rituals you can cultivate is that of journaling. Each morning, prepare yourself for the day ahead. Set your intentions for the day and try to follow through on them. Each evening before you go to bed, reflect and evaluate your behaviour. How well did you live up to your expectations? Doing this daily will help bring clarity about what you truly believe and value and help you shape your future right actions.

I will keep constant watch over myself and — most usefully — will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil—that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past. Seneca

Be active, not passive

It’s not enough to just take action. As I mentioned before, it needs to be the right action. We must choose what we stand for. Be a force for good and don’t stand idly by. They don’t need to be big, grand public gestures. Most often, they are the small things that demonstrate your real character. Traits that your children will notice and amplify.

Often injustice lies in what you aren’t doing, not only in what you are doing. Marcus Aurelius

Stoics believe in the idea of Cosmopolitanism. That we are all brothers and sisters of the world and that we must act for the greater good.

Noble Deeds

Nothing is noble if it’s done unwillingly or under compulsion. Every noble deed is voluntary Seneca

Action requires courage, not brashness—creative application and not brute force. Our movements and decisions define us: We must be sure to act with deliberation, boldness, and persistence. Those are the attributes of right and effective action. Nothing else—not thinking or evasion or aid from others. Action is the solution and the cure to our predicaments.

Stoicism is all about reframing your perspective. When you are finding it hard to take the right action, remember that you don’t have to, you get to.

You are what you do

Everything we do matters—whether it’s making smoothies while you save up money or studying for the bar—even after you already achieved the success you sought. Everything is a chance to do and be your best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires. Ryan Holiday - The Obstacle is the Way

How you do anything is how you do everything. Taking action, and especially the right action isn’t always easy. We may not act with wisdom or courage, or we get in our own way and fail to keep taking action. Failure is not an excuse. It is the time to double-down and re-focus, find another way past. For that, we need endurance and willpower, the third discipline.

Topics:

Got any questions or comments? Drop me a message on Twitter (@elaptics).