Actions, not words

2 minutes reading time

Someone asked me recently how you actually practice Stoicism. Many people have the impression that it’s only a collection of pithy quotes or sayings that sound good.

Words are no good if you don’t take action on them. Stoicism is a practical philosophy; it is something you apply to your daily life.

Learn, understand, think deeply and reflect. Train yourself to apply the lessons you learn so that others may see it by your actions.

Those who receive the bare theories immediately want to spew them, as an upset stomach does its food. First digest your theories and you won’t throw them up. Otherwise they will be raw, spoiled, and not nourishing. After you’ve digested them, show us the changes in your reasoned choices, just like the shoulders of gymnasts display their diets and training, and as the craft of artisans show in what they’ve learned. - Epictetus, Discourses, 3.21.1-3

Ok, but how do you actually do that? Everyone needs to find their own ways which work for them but here are a few things that I’m currently doing.

  • Each day I read a page from The Daily Stoic and spend a few minutes reflecting on it. I do what I can to take the lesson to heart and find some way to put it into practice.

  • I meditate daily which helps me to be more present and grateful. In turn, helping me temper thoughts before I open my mouth.

  • I journal and use my writings here as another way to marshal my thoughts. It forces me to think more deeply and be able to articulate what I learn.

  • In my younger rock climbing days I learned a technique called negative visualisation. I would visualise myself climbing, then slipping and falling to normalise the activity to overcome the fear and sweaty hands. In the same way, I try to visualise the negative outcomes for a given situation. You can apply this kind of thinking to almost any scenario where things could go wrong. In other words, be prepared.

  • It may sound morbid but I also regularly contemplate death1. It’s helpful to remind yourself how short a time we have and make the most of every opportunity presented to us.

To be clear, there are many days I fail but, just like an athlete, you resolve to train better tomorrow. Being Stoic is an ideal to strive for.

In the words of Seneca

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

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