Embrace Stoicism for a Resilient and Meaningful Life

December 4, 2023
Ahmadou DIALLO

5 Stoic Principles to Help You Thrive in Any Situation

"The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control and which have to do with the choices I actually control. And to say this to myself: 'Events are not by nature good or evil. It is up to me to decide what value to ascribe to them.'" 

- Epictetus

I have always felt powerless in front of what is happening to me. I have tried to adapt my behavior so that other people would like me. 

Younger, I was the ultimate people pleaser. I am still a little bit now. You know, old habits.

I have turned to my faith as a Muslim to try to make sense of this world. Yet, growing up in a religious environment, I felt more constraints than constructive frameworks to help me face an ever-changing world.

One day, I was lost in the YouTube pit hole. Then, I was served with a video of Ryan Holiday talking about stoicism. 

I followed my curiosity, and here I am today talking about stoicism. Religion is either too vague or too precise for me. It does not always serve me with practical ways to face a world that has changed since the last revelations of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. 

Here are five stoic principles that have helped me more than any revealed religion:

1. Be Humble And Strive To Improve.

2. Accept Pain But Choose Not To Suffer.

3. Earn Happiness Through Virtue And Gratitude.

4. Cherish What You Love, But Be Prepared To Let Go.

5. Embrace Change And Grow From Your Mistakes.

They are simple, human-centric, and focus on what you can control. 

1. Be Humble And Strive To Improve.

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing." 

- Socrates

As a human, you always have a worldview centered around you. Imagine that you are lost in the middle of the ocean. You look 360 degrees around you. Everything is at the same distance. And you are the center. 

You are always in the middle of your life’s perception. You feel like everything else is here to serve you. You feel like you are entitled to everything good. You feed your ego. You always see anything or anyone not conspiring in your favor (allegedly) as an enemy to be eradicated.

You feel that everything is perfect within you while the imperfections of the external world are attacking you. 

The truth is that you may be at the center of your worldview. Welcome to the world. Everyone else has the same feeling. 

Imagine the world being a gigantic ball floating in the universe. Imagine that it has 8 billion apertures. Each human is seeing the universe through their aperture. 

None of us are seeing the same thing. Yet we all feel like we are seeing it all. Nope. That is a fallacy. 

You are just one aperture among 8 billion. Keep your ego in check and walk the world with humility.

2. Accept Pain But Choose Not To Suffer.

"It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters." 

- Epictetus

Imagine that you are hit with two arrows. Which one of those arrows will hurt the most? That is not a rhetorical question. 

I invite you to reflect on that. 

Life is suffering. Life is joy. Both are two faces of the same coin. 

You may try to dwell on pain. You may live your life complaining about all the slaps in your face, physical or spiritual. 

Many of us spend our limited time on Earth holding on to a feeling of pain while the physical one is already gone.

Let's come back to the two arrows. Buddhism says that the first arrow will hurt. Yet the second arrow will hurt only if you let it do. 

Indeed, the first arrow is what happens to you, and the second one is how you respond. 

Don’t let the second arrow hurt you. Don’t hold on to it. Accept it. Let it go. Move on. 

3. Earn Happiness Through Virtue And Gratitude.

"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions." 

- Dalai Lama

You live your life feeling unhappy. Everyone, including the universe, is conspiring against you. The other is the enemy. That is what your ego is telling you. 

You are angry and frustrated about what is happening to you. You see all the happiness fleeting around you. You cannot catch a breath of it. You are buying into what society sells about the mirage of happiness. You are playing by the rules of others. Yet you feel like you are missing out. 

Life is treating you unfairly. You deserve to be happy. At least, that is what your ego is echoing into the empty walls of your mind. 

You cannot chase happiness as if you were trying to get the treasure at the foot of a rainbow. You will never catch it. 

If you let the outside world define happiness for you, you will only get nothing. You will be freezed by inaction. 

Happiness is not a destination to get. Happiness is found in the joy of daily actions. Happiness is the crest of the wave of Now. A trough is coming. That is the other half of the wave. 

4. Cherish What You Love, But Be Prepared To Let Go.

"Memento mori." 

- Latin for "Remember that you must die."

You live in your bubble. You spend a lot of energy putting blinders before your imminent death. All you want is just to enjoy life. You don’t want to be bothered with it. It will happen anyway.

You are swayed by any wind for change. You think you have eternity to enjoy life with your friends and family. You cling to life so much that it suffocates you to death. That is the irony of “forgetting” your own death. 

The beauty of light is in the abysses of darkness. The crest is high in contrast with the trough of a wave. The figure is magnified by the background. 

Everything you see today will vanish one day, you included. It might be a scary thought. Yet, it is the most powerful way to be present. 

Remembering your own death will help you be focused, set the appropriate priorities, and let go of the non-essential things. 

Remember that you will die, and you will live the most beautiful death in life.

5. Embrace Change And Grow From Your Mistakes.

"The only thing constant in life is change." 

- Heraclitus

You have made it. You have figured out everything in life. You don’t feel the need to upgrade your worldview despite contradicting evidence.

You are a prisoner of your limiting beliefs. You are a tree surrounded by an expanding desert of “I know it all.” You will die dry in your comfort zone. 

The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. That is the beauty of enlightenment. You take in new information as you open your mind and close your eyes. 

You try. You fail. You learn. You grow. 

Life is not motion. Life is an intentional movement toward the unknown. Life is about updating and upgrading your worldview with the new signs of the universe. 

Failure is not an option. Learning from it is a choice. Make a deliberate one not to be dogmatic. Choose agility, flexibility, and adaptability.

Final Thoughts

Like you, I have been holding on to my worldview. Like you, I have thought I am so smart that I can outsmart life. Like you, I have derived my own code to figure it out. Sometimes, I have also accepted other frameworks through religion or society's rules.

Many of the rules that apply to you are very specific. There are two things in the frames of religion, governments and society. These are two entangled waves coming at you. They are the noise and the meaning. 

On top of that, those signals are evolving in space and time as the world changes. 

You cannot spend your whole life being rigid like a statue. You will not go anywhere. The best case scenario: you will move to a museum where people can come and contemplate you. 

There is the dichotomy of control: let go of what is beyond your power and focus on what you can change now. 

Each choice you make can be justified a posteriori. A priori, make those choices based on virtue and gratitude.

You are not a bird in a dead tree. You are a leaf in a living organism: the tree of life. Change is coming whether you like it or not. 

Yes, there are many frameworks that you can use to face the winds of change. If you had only to choose one, make it stoicism:

1. Be Humble And Strive To Improve.

2. Accept Pain But Choose Not To Suffer.

3. Earn Happiness Through Virtue And Gratitude.

4. Cherish What You Love, But Be Prepared To Let Go.

5. Embrace Change And Grow From Your Mistakes.

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