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The Little Book of Stoicism

The Little Book of Stoicism by Jonas Salzgeber

Read in December 2020

"It's impossible to learn which you believe you already know."

"Warrior-philosopher", is a person who practices the art of living in his or her actions. Stoicism seeks for answers on "how to live" and expects us to reflect our values to our actions.

If you didn't learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for?

– Epictetus

Promise 1 - Eudaimonia

  • "eu" -> being good
  • "daimon" -> inner spirit

Nature wants us to become the highest versions of ourselves.

It's in our nature to fulfil that potential, aim to be in harmony with our ideal self.

We can close the gap between our current self and the ideal one by living in arete (virtue).

Promise 2 - Emotional Resilience

Basically learning to take punches, and practicing anti-fragility.

The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.

– Marcus Aurelius

Strong emotions are our ultimate weaknesses. We have to learn how to deal with them. It's not about getting rid of emotions (lowercase stoic), it's about acknowledging them, reflecting on cause, and teach ourselves to redirect them for our own good.

Power of ethymia (tranquility)

Knowing your path and trying your best to accomplish what's needed to be on it.

You're confident on what you do is right, and don't need to listen what the others say.

History of Stoicism

Zeno, a phoenician merchant who lost his wealth in a shipwreck living in Cyprus. He moves to Athens, studies Socrates's teachings (and in several academies), then starts to teach in public.

Seneca (4 BCE - 65 CE)

  • Lived an extraordinary life.
  • Successful, wealthy playwright.
  • Exiled and brought back to tutor Nero.
  • Ordered to kill himself by Nero, in front of his family and friends.

Musonius Rufus (30 CE - 100 CE)

  • Didn't write anything down but his students did.
  • Also exiled to Gyaros by Nero.
  • Came back after Nero died, and taught more.

Epictetus (55 CE - 135 CE)

  • Student of Rufus.
  • Born as a slave, allowed to study by his master, then permanently set free due to his intelligence.
  • Lived a simple life with a few possessions.
  • Didn't write, but his students took notes (Discourses)

Marcus Aurelius (121 CE - 180 CE)

  • Was an emperor of the Roman Empire (the last of 5 great emperors)
  • Didn't use his power to preach Stoicism
  • His private journals published as Meditations
  • Was slow but steady when it comes to wars.

Low tendency to preach Stoicism is one of the fundamentals of the philosophy. Living it by example is much more effective then forcing others. This mindset, however, prevented Stoicism to spread widely, and Christianity became more popular.

The Stoic Happiness Triangle

Living with arete

It's merely natural to not be the "best version" of ourselves. Yet the gap should be the motivation to learn from our mistakes and grow.

Our ability to use reason divides us from other beings, and help us to act mindfully, being aware of our actions and consequences.

Four cardinal virtues

  • Wisdom
  • Justice
  • Courage
  • Self-discipline

The perfect stoic "Sage", an imaginary person who lives accordingly to all Stoic virtues. "What would Sage do?"

Being virtuous requires paying "attention." It's about intercepting the reactions of lizard brain, and enhancing/changing them with respect to our virtues.

Living with arete is it's own reward. The positive feelings, and material outcomes are just added bonuses.

Similar to Kant's ethics, we do the right thing just because it's the right thing to do.

The goal is to be useful, to help others, and take care of ourselves and everybody else.

Focus on what you control

  • High influence: our choices in judgments and actions
  • Partial influence: health, wealth, relationships, and outcomes of our behaviors.
  • No influence: weather, ethnicity, and most external circumstances.

Focus on the process, do your best, and accept whatever outcome.

Success is defined by our effort to do everything that's within our power.

It's futile to fight what already happened, it's wise to continue despite it.

The hallmark of an admirable poker player is to play regardless of their cards.

Take responsibility

We are responsible for our own flourishing.

If you want anything good, you must get it from yourself.

– Epictetus

Taking responsibility will increase our changes of attaining eudaimonia. The victim mentality brings nothing but despair.

Outside events have the power of effecting our life, but not ruining it.

Only you can ruin your life by getting fooled around by the things you don't control, and by failing to act despite them.

We cannot choose our external circumstances. But we can change how we react to them.

– Epictetus

"Freedom of choice": stepping back from automatic response and acting mindfully. We can turn negative, impulsive reactions to positive, or no reaction at all.

  • There's nothing good or bad unless we choose to make it so.
  • We shouldn't try to lead events but follow them. Resistance is futile, take things as they come, and make the best of what's in your power.

The villain: negative emotions get in the way

Negative emotions naturally feel bad, and our number one priority becomes to feel better. Then we automatically seek relief of the pain in the present moment, regardless of our values and goals. We end up walking away like a coward, ordering pizza and tiramisu, binge-watching Netflix, smash doors, and buy things we don't need.

Once the enemy has entered the mind, reason is gone.

– Seneca

Our tendency to survival evolved our brains to have negativity bias. Scarcity of resources and dangers made us pay attention to negative more than the positive.

Negative emotions come from wanting and fearing what's not under our control. We need to be aware and detach irrational fears and cravings before we can endure them with courage and perseverance, or abstain from them with discretion and self-discipline.

Awareness buys us time and delay for trying to make a rational decision.

Stoic Practices

What stands in the way becomes the way

  • Challenges are opportunities.
  • It's within our control to use them to practice our skills.
  • Life supposed to be challenging. Who said it's going to be easy?

Remember impermanence

  • Things change, we change, and nothing lasts forever.
  • Think about all the people lived before us, and the ones will live after.

Negative visualization

  • Train to face adversity
  • What could go wrong, how?

Voluntary discomfort

  • Temporary poverty.
  • Get into uncomfortable situations.
  • Purposefully forgo pleasure.

Morning routine

  • Gratefulness to life and nature
  • Remember the virtues and values
  • Plan the day

Evening routine

Review the day, put things on paper to set the mind free.

  • good: what went well?
  • better: what could I do better?
  • best: what do I need to active the best version?

Eliminate the nonessential

  • Get rid of material possessions, routines, etc. that don't provide value
  • Live simple, fortune can be taken away any moment
  • Cut back time from news and other distractions

Win at what matters

We become experts in many things yet we still don't know how to live. Memorizing all the Marvel movies is much less useful than practicing self-control.

There's nothing harder than learning how to live.

– Seneca

Become an eternal student

  • Seek for the wisdom and be humble.
  • Put your learnings to practice.

It's impossible to learn which you believe you already know.

– Epictetus

Beat fear with preparation and reason

Lack of control and attachment to external things and desires leads to fear.

The common way is to hide from fear, but the proper way is to think about it rationally and calmly, till it becomes familiar.

Pain and provocation: great opportunities for virtue

  • Every accident is an opportunity to practice arete.
  • Every headache is a chance not to curse.
  • Every annoying person is a chance for patience.


The way we respond to some else's problems is more rational.

Detaching from "I'm special and why does it always rain on me?" mindsets help to maintain a balanced mind.

Take the bird's-eye view

Our massive problem suddenly gets utterly insignificant on the macroscopic scale. Put things in perspective, and stay indifferent to external things that others mistakenly value – like wealth, looks, or social status.

It's the old same thing

It's not the first time that happens to somebody. Hundreds experienced before us, and hundreds will do after we're gone.

Avoid rashness

Refuse to accept the impulsive reaction, act mindfully. Pause, and test impressions.

Nobody errs on purpose

Don't blame the people because they did wrong. "Nobody does wrong willingly," says Socrates.

It takes no sense to get angry. Lead by example and support them instead of judging.

Find your own faults

When you are offended at any man's fault, turn to yourself and study your own feelings. Then you will forget your anger.

– Epictetus

We've also made many mistakes till now. And still counting.

Forgive and love those who stumble

  • The stumbling people are our relatives.
  • They do wrong involuntarily.
  • We're all going to die anyway.
  • We can only be harmed if we choose so.


The best revenge is to be unlike them who performed the injury.

– Marcus Aurelius

Laugh it off.

Don't abandon others nor yourself, but choose your company well

We shouldn't abandon people just because we choose to change, but we shouldn't abandon our new path as well.

Remaining kind and patient during the process is the real challenge.

Still, we have freedom to choose who to spend our time with. Spend more time with people to grow. Don't break-up and abandon the others, but consciously spend less time.

Don't judge but yourself

Prejudice and the urge of correcting others is a road to pain suffering.

We engage in the practice to improve ourselves, not to fix others.

Listen more, and say only what's not better left unsaid

We have two ears and a mount for a reason. To listen more and talk less.

– Zeno

Nobody enjoys the self-indulging stories. We enjoy while telling them, but do we also enjoy while listening?

Put into practice what you preach.

People remember what you did when they forgot what you said.