Daily Stoic https://dailystoic.com Stoic Wisdom For Everyday Life Tue, 19 May 2020 04:57:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.3 https://dailystoic.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/cropped-7-32x32.png Daily Stoic https://dailystoic.com 32 32 How To Be A Bad Emperor: An Interview With Author And Professor Josiah Osgood https://dailystoic.com/josiah-osgood-interview/ Mon, 18 May 2020 18:02:53 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8631 There were not many good emperors in Rome. There have not been many good kings since. In fact, there haven’t been many good leaders ever—there is something about power that seems to bring out the worst in people. All one has to do is read Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars to see this played out. …

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There were not many good emperors in Rome. There have not been many good kings since. In fact, there haven’t been many good leaders ever—there is something about power that seems to bring out the worst in people. All one has to do is read Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars to see this played out. Josiah Osgood, professor of Classics at Georgetown University recently translated an edition of Suetonius, entitled How To Be A Bad Emperor which looks at some of the worst Roman Emperors. In our interview with Josiah below, he explains more about what power does to people, what leaders today can learn from the fall of the Roman Republic, why Stoicism thrives amid trying times, and much more. Please enjoy our interview with Josiah Osgood and check out his latest book, How To Be A Bad Emperor!

Before we get into it, can you tell us about how your interest in Roman History, and specifically the fall of the Roman Republic, began? 

As a sophomore in high school I signed up for Latin and had a wonderfully charismatic teacher.  She had been brought out of retirement just to keep Latin afloat but within a few years over a hundred students were enrolled.  We read Cicero’s speeches against Catiline and she told us that Cicero’s rhetoric was so powerful she had nightmares about Catiline.  I fell in love with the language and majored in Latin literature in college. In graduate school I became fascinated with how Vergil in his earliest poetry mourned land confiscations in Italy carried out by the future emperor Augustus.  To find out more, I read Ronald Syme’s Roman Revolution, one of the best books ever written about ancient Rome. It’s both a somber account of Augustus’ rise to power and a very juicy exposé of Rome’s ruling class. I was so enthralled by Syme’s account of Roman politics I’ve been studying the subject compulsively for twenty years since.

For your new book How To Be A Bad Emperor, you translated Suetonius’ biographies of the Roman emperors Julius Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero. You’ve been researching and teaching this period for decades. What new insights did translating Suetonius give you into the various Caesars?

Suetonius has the reputation of being a rather gossipy writer, and in some ways he was.  He took great pleasure in digging up the worst dirt he could find on the emperors and sharing it with his readers. Modern scholars have tended to view his biographies as a collection of anecdotal material, not always very reliable.  Working closely with Suetonius’ Latin made me see that his portraits of the emperors are coherent and convincing, even if some of his material may be more caricature than literal truth. Suetonius believed that power unmasks the true identity of leaders.  It brings to light weaknesses that were there all along but might have been overlooked.  For Julius Caesar this was arrogance; for Tiberius, a willingness to indulge his proclivity for personal pleasure; for Caligula, a fondness of cruelly taunting others; for Nero, an obsession with being the center of attention.  After translating Suetonius, I now understand the psychology of all of these men better. Passion rules many of us more than reason, a truth academic historians prefer to ignore.

How much personal interpretation goes into translating ancient texts? What was your goal in preparing this work?

As a translator, you have to come to grips with what you think the original text means.  That can mean study of how the author you’re translating uses particular words and phrases, or how other authors do.  Then you have to think about how you best capture the meaning you have in mind in English.  What do you think a contemporary audience will understand?  If you feel the original text is somewhat hard to follow, do you want to reproduce that for your reader?  Fortunately, Suetonius wrote a clear Latin and so I tried to make my translation lucid too.  This meant breaking up some longer sentences into shorter ones, since in English we don’t pile up the clauses as the Romans did.  Suetonius also has a wonderfully dry sense of humor and I tried to capture that.

You talk about how Suetonius somewhat humanizes the figures he wrote about by including smaller observations like their daily habits. Could you elaborate on some of those habits—good and bad—that may be more important or revealing than one might initially think?

The best example of this in Suetonius comes in one of the lives I did not translate, Domitian.  In his early days in power, Domitian would spend hours at a time locked up in a room trying to catch flies and stab them with his writing stylus.  Someone asked if anyone was in with Caesar, and the witty reply came: “Not even a fly.”  It all seems like a joke, but Domitian was revealing how obsessively he removed threats – and it was not so funny when he decided members of the Senate were out to get him.  In the four lives I translate there are plenty more examples.  Julius Caesar was irritated by the premature loss of his hair and tried to cover it up with a comb-over.  This might just seem like regular vanity, but Suetonius tells us what really bothered Caesar was how he was mocked for being bald.  This was a man who could not take a joke, much less an insult.

There are many interwoven elements between the period that you cover in the book and today, so if you had the opportunity to speak with senators and other political leaders today, what would you warn them about?

In his lives of the Caesars, Suetonius charts the fall of the Roman Republic, a period from which the writers of the US Constitution learned a lot and we can too. Probably the clearest warning is the dangers of excessive partisanship.  While many factors contributed to the rise of imperial government in Rome, it was a quarrel between Julius Caesar and his political enemies that irrevocably tipped the balance.  Each side stretched laws and norms to the breaking point and could barely recognize the other as fellow Romans.  I also would say that while in many ways Caesar looks the more aggressive to us, he was right to point out that his opponents neglected the interests of ordinary Romans.  It was precisely that circumstance that made his rise to dictatorial power possible.  Politicians must stay in touch with regular Americans and not spend all their time courting the media or wealthy donors.

Most of the more famous Stoics fall outside the timeline you write about, but it would be fascinating if you could provide any insight into what the philosophers were thinking and saying during the reigns of emperors like Augustus, Caligula, and Tiberius. What can we learn from them about living well even under a terrible leader?

It is no coincidence that Stoicism blossomed under the Roman emperors.  It’s the perfect philosophy for helping you carry on under trying conditions, whether it be illness, imprisonment, or a constant sense of danger.  A bad emperor, the Stoics would tell you, can never truly harm you.  It is within your control whether you suffer, or not.  You must not collaborate with a corrupt leader – and to resist him is an opportunity to grow stronger.  Roman Senators, who were almost hard-wired to seek glory, even saw an opportunity to win fame by defying a bad emperor like Nero.  They could set an example for posterity.

Emperors, it is worth noting, also found Stoicism a helpful guide for thinking about how to fulfill their own duties.  Augustus studied with the Stoic Areus of Alexandria.  And according to Suetonius, Augustus on his deathbed called in his friends and asked if he had played his part in the comedy of life well.  The question has a Stoic ring to it.

I would also point out that even those without philosophical training had another good coping mechanism for dealing with autocracy – humor.  Political jokes are common in repressive regimes, allowing individuals quietly to mock their rulers and retain at least a shred of sanity.  Suetonius reports many jokes about bad emperors.  After Tiberius moved full-time to the isle of Capri, people started calling his resort there “the old goat’s home,” punning on the Latin word for goat, caper.

Cato was such a towering figure to Seneca and Marcus Aurelius and generations of Stoics, but he wasn’t without his flaws. Examining Julius Caesar’s reign and Cato’s impassioned resistance, what are your thoughts on Cato? Could or should he have done anything differently?

The historian Sallust thought that Caesar and Cato were the two greatest Romans of his day – and Sallust was a former officer of Caesar.  This should tell us that Cato is not to be dismissed lightly.  While Caesar saw that Roman government was failing ordinary citizens, Cato grasped a great truth too: money was dominating politics excessively.  To win ever-more competitive elections, candidates resorted to bribery and they then ripped off provincials in the empire to cover the costs.  All of this destabilized the empire as well as the electoral system itself.  Cato also saw just how dangerous it could be to resort to violence to settle a political dispute.  Cato’s basic view was that Rome should be governed by disinterested statesmen and citizens should emulate their example.  This has inspired a rich republican tradition, including our own in the United States.  But Cato failed to build a coalition of enough Romans and Italians to take on Caesar successfully.

We’d love to hear from you on one of the “Five Good Emperors,” Marcus Aurelius. We’d be curious to hear your assessment of his rule in the grand scheme of things. What of his philosophy do you find most fascinating?

In their classic History of Rome the British historians M. Cary and H. H. Scullard quipped that Marcus was “better suited to the part of Hamlet than to that of Caesar.”  There is some truth to this.  Marcus had little military training in his youth, and this proved a challenge during his time in power.  That said, his Meditations, along with the record of his rule, haunts me.  To think that a Roman emperor, who could have been dressed in purple robes and served the finest foods by the most beautiful staff, preferred to sit up alone at night and contemplate his own insignificance in the vast cosmos, or to think that he would spend days and days on a single judicial hearing if that was necessary to see justice done: this is a powerful summons not to put ourselves and our own desires first.  If you or I became Caesar, would we live up to that example?

Last, any book recommendations?

Well I would recommend all of Suetonius (there are good translations by Donna Hurley and Catharine Edwards among others). Tom Holland’s Dynasty is a colorful account of the figures I treat in How to Be a Bad Emperor.  I always enjoying reading Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on bad emperors and much more.  Hugh Trevor-Roper’s The Last Days of Hitler is a brilliant combination of intelligence work and history-writing in the classical style.  I like to read about good leaders too, especially in their own words.  The top of my list are Lincoln’s speeches and letters and almost anything by Churchill, including his sparkling memoir My Early Life.  Churchill’s account there of trying to learn Latin is not to be missed. Well-informed historical fiction is fun and insightful.  For bad emperors, Robert Graves’ I, Claudius is the starting point.  Currently I am enjoying William Safire’s novel on Lincoln, Freedom.

 

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History of Challenge Coins https://dailystoic.com/challenge-coins/ Sat, 16 May 2020 02:52:51 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8598 If you’ve served in the Military, Law Enforcement, or in any government agency, you’ve probably seen challenge coins passed around. Historically, a challenge coin holds the emblem or insignia of a specific group and is carried by that group’s members. Roman Legionnaires, military personnel and private sector companies have all used challenge coins to show …

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If you’ve served in the Military, Law Enforcement, or in any government agency, you’ve probably seen challenge coins passed around. Historically, a challenge coin holds the emblem or insignia of a specific group and is carried by that group’s members. Roman Legionnaires, military personnel and private sector companies have all used challenge coins to show membership and achievement within their ranks. This article will focus on the history of handing out such coins, and how we still benefit from the practice today.

The First Challenge Coins

Legionnaire Coin, Image From Numisantica.com

The exact origin story of the challenge coin has been widely debated by military historians, though the first traces of them date back to the Roman Empire. If a soldier performed well in battle, he would receive his typical day’s pay and a separate coin as a bonus. Some accounts say that these coins were specially stamped with a mark of the legion from which it came, prompting some men to hold on to their coins as a memento of their service. Certainly, the coins that were received by Roman Legionnaires were the earliest form of challenge coins that we know of. However, a popular story told in U.S. military circles suggests that the first “official” challenge coin wasn’t created until WWI. 

The story goes that a wealthy American lieutenant in World War I distributed matching bronze coins to his unit members before they were deployed. After an American pilot was captured by Germans, the pilot managed to escape to a French outpost. Unaware of who the American was and with no way to verify his identity, the French assumed him to be a German spy. In response to these accusations, the American presented the challenge coin around his neck. According to the tale, one of the French soldiers who was holding him captive recognized the insignia stamped on the coin. This not only saved the pilot’s life, but also earned him a bottle of French wine for his troubles.

Where Does The “Challenge” Part Come From?  

German Pfennig, Image From Ebay.com

Another story insists that the “challenge” aspect of the coins began in Germany after World War II. Americans stationed there adopted a local tradition of conducting “pfennig checks.” The pfennig was the lowest monetary coin in Germany, and if you didn’t have one when a “Coin Check” was called, you were stuck buying drinks for everyone. This tradition evolved from a pfennig to a unit’s unique medallion, and members would “challenge” each other by slamming a medallion down on the bar. If any member present didn’t have his medallion, he had to buy a drink for the challenger and for anyone else that had their coin. Reciprocally, if all the other members had their medallions, the challenger had to then buy everyone drinks. Other military historians believe the tradition began in a bar in Vietnam, where patrons were required to present enemy bullets or their challenge coin upon entering. 

Interestingly, there were many notable challenge coins to come out of the Vietnam war, including the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) coin. During the Vietnam War, U.S. special operations forces were working with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in conducting clandestine operations against the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong. Due to the secrecy of such operations, U.S. soldiers were not overtly commended for their bravery and accomplishments during these missions. In response, the leadership of the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) designed a military challenge coin to present to their men. On the front was the unit’s name, a beret with the number one in the top right and a sword pointing up, signifying the unit was ready for combat. On the reverse side was the Special Forces motto De Oppresso Liber, or “Free the Oppressed”. 

1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) Coin, Image From medalsofamerica.com

Modern Uses

Today, the challenge coin tradition has spread far beyond the ranks of the military. Law enforcement agencies hand them out to commemorate notable cases or occurrences. Government agencies and even private-sector corporations have adopted the practice to recognize their employees. 12-step groups also hand them out to mark stints of sobriety. 

Since the Clinton administration, every president has had his own challenge coin. And since Dick Cheney served as vice president, every vice president has their own unique coin as well. There are usually several different Presidential coins. There’s one for the inauguration, one that commemorates the administration, and one available to the general public. The rarest coin can only be handed out by the president. These are usually reserved for special occasions. It’s said that George W. Bush reserved his coins for injured soldiers coming back from war. President Obama handed them out fairly often, usually to soldiers that guard the stairs on Air Force One.

As you can imagine, challenge coins are now widely traded and collected by a myriad of people. Some collect coins that highlight what they’ve done in their career. Others keep coins in their pockets to remind them of their sobriety and how far they’ve come. And now, we have challenge coins here at Daily Stoic to memorialize some of the most important Stoic concepts. 

The Stoic Connection

While the history of the challenge coin involves humorous examples of soldiers slamming coins on bar tables, the Stoics would have seen these coins with far more intrinsic purposes The skeptic Michel de Montaigne, who was undoubtedly influenced by the Stoics, saw the value of carrying a memento with him that reminded him of his philosophy. In 1576, Montaigne had his own personal medal created. He had it engraved with his age, the word “Epecho” , or “I abstain” in Greek, and another Sceptic motto in French: “Que sais-je?”: what do I know

The coins we keep on our person now—ones that read Memento Mori, Premeditatio Malorum, or refer to the 4 virtues—they all remind us to be our best selves.  The Stoics saw life as the ultimate challenge, and the only way to overcome it is to master the way we see the world. Marcus Aurelius once said that life is more like wrestling than dancing, “in so far as it stands ready against the accidental and the unforeseen, and is not apt to fall”. By keeping our principles on our person, inscribed on coins, and with us wherever we go, all we have to do is reach in our pockets if we need a little encouragement to keep going. 

Epictetus also spoke of life as a challenge and insisted that we seek to triumph despite these challenges, writing “The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful sailors gain their reputation from storms and tempests.

In business, in the military, in academics, and in life—we must always be willing to challenge ourselves. We have to stand ready like a wrestler, as Marcus says. Because life will continuously try to knock us down. And if we have nothing else to keep us on our feet, perhaps the coin in our pocket will be enough to bear the weight of whatever is hanging over us at that moment.

The Daily Stoic Challenge Coin Collection 

Below is a collection of our Daily Stoic challenge coins and the meaning behind them. Choose the ones that speak to you the most, or get one for each day of the week with our Daily Stoic Challenge Coin Bundle

Memento Mori Medallion 

Our most popular medallion, memento mori (latin: ‘remember you must die’) is the ancient practice of reflecting on your own mortality.

The front features our interpretation of “Still Life with a Skull,” which showed the three essentials of existence – the tulip (life), the skull (death), and the hourglass (time). The back shows Marcus Aurelius’s timeless reminder ‘you could leave life right now.’

Meditating on your mortality is only depressing if you miss the point. It is in fact a tool to create priority and meaning. It’s a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. To treat our time as a gift and not waste it on the trivial and vain. Death doesn’t make life pointless but rather purposeful. 

Amor Fati Medallion

Amor fati is a mindset that you take on for making the best out of anything that happens: Treating each and every moment—no matter how challenging—as something to be embraced, not avoided. To not only be okay with it, but love it and be better for it. So that like oxygen to a fire, obstacles and adversity become fuel for your potential.

The flame on the front is inspired by Marcus Aurelius’s timeless wisdom: “a blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.” The back features an excerpt of the great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s formula for greatness: “Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it….but love it.”

Summum Bonum Medallion

Summum Bonum is an expression from Cicero, Rome’s greatest orator. In Latin, it means “the highest good.”

And what is the highest good? What is it that we are supposed to be aiming for in this life? To the Stoics, the answer is virtue.

The from shows Arete was the goddess of virtue. The model for us to follow–the embodiment of this idea of doing and living right. The back shows Marcus’s simple reminder:

“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.”

Premeditatio Malorum Medallion

Premeditatio malorum (“the pre-meditation of evils”) is a Stoic exercise of imagining things that could go wrong or be taken away from us. It helps us prepare for life’s inevitable setbacks and develop resilience in the face of uncertainty.

The premeditatio malorum medallion is designed to keep us equally prepared–and strengthen us for any possibility. The back features part of Seneca’s quote “All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.” Wrapped around the border are the situations Seneca instructs us to rehearse: Exile. Torture. War. Shipwreck.

Sympatheia Medallion

Perhaps the most radical idea in all of Stoicism: Sympatheia is the belief in mutual interdependence among everything in the universe, that we are all one. 

The front shows the famous 1972 “Blue Marble” earth, which instantly changed man’s perspective on himself. It is a view Marcus Aurelius could only imagine but still understood. The image is a prompt to zoom out of your own bubble and see the world as a whole and understand the interdependence of everyone on it.

The back features Marcus’s timeless wisdom:

“Revere the gods, and look after each other. Life is short—the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.”

Obstacle Is The Way Medallion

The inspiration for the international bestseller The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday, that line, plucked from the pages of Marcus Aurelius’s private Meditations nearly 2000 years ago, is a timeless, life-changing lesson.

Now, with our newest medallion, you can carry this powerful truth with you wherever you go.

The front features a great mountain. The back shows Marcus’s enduring words:

“The impediment to action advances action, what stands in the way becomes the way.”

Ego Is The Enemy Medallion

“Ego sucks us down like the law of gravity” – Cyril Connolly

Inspired by the international bestseller Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday, Daily Stoic is excited to introduce the Ego Is The Enemy medallion.

The purpose of this coin is to remind us to be:

  • Humble when ambitious
  • Gracious when successful
  • Resilient when we fail

Four Virtues Medallion

“If, at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, truth, self-control, courage—it must be an extraordinary thing indeed.” —Marcus Aurelius

Daily Stoic is proud to announce the minting of our newest coin: the Four Virtues Medallion.

This medallion is a perfect reminder that you can have everything you want if you just make the effort to take the road that leads through virtue. The Four Virtues Medallion is designed to make that effort just a little bit easier.

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The Power of Habits: What The Ancients Knew About Making Good Ones & Breaking Bad Ones https://dailystoic.com/the-power-of-habits-what-the-ancients-knew-about-making-good-ones-breaking-bad-ones/ Sun, 10 May 2020 22:40:19 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8567 Arete—the most powerful word to the Stoics. It means excellence, and it was the ultimate expression of human greatness—moral, physical, spiritual. It’s what the Stoics were chasing. It’s what we’re all chasing.  Reaching it requires a certain philosophical approach. Because brilliance and inspiration and skill are not enough. Summing up Aristotle’s thoughts on excellence, Will …

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Arete—the most powerful word to the Stoics. It means excellence, and it was the ultimate expression of human greatness—moral, physical, spiritual. It’s what the Stoics were chasing. It’s what we’re all chasing. 

Reaching it requires a certain philosophical approach. Because brilliance and inspiration and skill are not enough. Summing up Aristotle’s thoughts on excellence, Will Durant wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.”

In other words: Excellence isn’t this thing you do one time. It’s a way of living. It’s foundational. It’s like an operating system and the code this system operates on is habit 

Which is why we’ve created this guide for you. We’ll first lay out the best habits for happiness and success. Then, we’ll help you understand how habits are formed, so you can break bad habits and replace them with good habits. And at the bottom, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of additional resources. Click the links below to navigate to a specific section or scroll and read the entirety of the page. And bookmark this page and return to it frequently—it is the ultimate guide on habits.

I. What Are Habits?

II. Why Do Habits Matter?

III. What Are The Best Habits For Happiness And Success?

IV. How Are Habits Formed?

V. How Are Habits Broken?

VII. What Are The Best Books On Habits?

VIII. What Are The Best Quotes About Habits

I. What Are Habits?

The Stoics were all about habits and routine. It wasn’t just about knowing what the right thing was, it was about doing it daily. They would have agreed with Aristotle that we become what we repeatedly study and focus on. We are what we habituate. 

As Epictetus would say, “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.” So if we want to be happy, if we want to be successful, if we want to be great, we have to develop the capability, we have to develop the day-to-day habits that allow this to ensue.

This is great news. Because it means that impressive results or enormous changes are possible without herculean effort or magic formulas. Small adjustments, good systems, the right processes—that’s what it takes. Epictetus said that philosophy was something that should be kept at hand every day and night. Indeed, the title of his book Enchiridion actually means “small thing in hand,” or handbook. At the core of Marcus Aurelius’s power as a philosopher and philosopher king seems to be this lesson he would have read in Epictetus: “Every day and night keep thoughts like these at hand,” Epictetus had said. “Write them, read them aloud, talk to yourself and others about them.” That’s exactly what we see Marcus doing in Meditations because “such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind,” as he put it. Seneca, for his part, talked about repeatedly diving back into the great texts of history—rather than chasing every new or exciting thing published. “You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works,” he said, “if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.” 

There is nothing more powerful than a good habit. Nothing that holds us back quite like a bad habit. We are what we do. What we do determines who we can be. You know this. You’ve seen these forces at work in your own life, for better and—frustratingly all too often—for worse. What we do in practice, the Stoics knew, is how we play when it’s gametime. Repetition, routine, ritual, habits—they dictate who we are and what we become. Success and happiness isn’t random, it’s a habit.  

II. Why Do Habits Matter?

These are difficult times we’re in. Economic uncertainty. Personal adversity. These things can sink you…or they can be opportunities to improve. They can be obstacles you triumph over…or setbacks that bring you to your knees.

What will it be? 

Habits answer that question. If you can cultivate good habits, you can survive—even thrive on—what lies ahead. If you relapse and fall to the level of your worst habits, these hard times will only be harder. 

Epictetus said habits—good and bad—were like a bonfire. Every time we perform a habit, we reinforce it, we add fuel to the fire:

“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.” 

It was likely one of the many lessons he learned from his teacher, Musonius Rufus. Rufus was perhaps the earliest philosopher to identify the power of habits. In “many circumstances,” he said, “we do not deal with our affairs in accordance with correct assumptions, but rather we follow thoughtless habit.” We really are creatures of habit, as the age-old cliche goes. In fact, research has proven exactly what Musonius intuited over two millennia ago. In a 2014 study by a team of psychologists, they found that 40% of our daily lives are repeated with behaviors and activities in near-exact circumstances. Day after day, we drive the same roads, walk the same sidewalks, eat the same meals, perform the same tasks at work, and slip into a Groundhog Day-like trance of thoughtless habit. 

So think about the things you’ve done in the last week. Think about what you have planned for today and the week that follows. Think about the person you’d like to be, or the person you see yourself as—are your actions the actions of that kind of person? Will your actions get you there if you are not there yet? Are you fueling the right bonfires? There’s few things more important than making sure you are.

III. What Are The Best Habits For Happiness And Success?

Wake Up Early

“The day has already begun to lessen. It has shrunk considerably, but yet will still allow a goodly space of time if one rises, so to speak, with the day itself. We are more industrious, and we are better men if we anticipate the day and welcome the dawn.” — Seneca, Letters From A Stoic, 122.1

“I am convinced,” Lord Chesterfield told his son, “that a light supper, a goodnight’s sleep and a fine morning, have sometimes made a hero out of the same man, who by an indigestion, a restless night and a rainy morning, would have proved a coward.”

One of the perks Marcus could have enjoyed as the ruler of the world was he didn’t have to wake up early. He didn’t have to do anything. But he was convinced just as Chesterfield was that kings own the morning:

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself, As a human being I have to go to work. Why am I complaining if I’m going to do what I was born to do – the things I was brought into the world to do? Is this really what I was created for – to snuggle under the blankets and stay warm? But, you say, it’s nicer here. I see, so you were born to feel nice, is that it? Not to do things and experience them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees all going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order as best they can? And you mean you’re not willing to do your part as a human being? Why aren’t you jumping up to do what your nature demands? 

It’s well documented that happy and successful people wake up early. In many ways, as Shane Parrish has written, the best productivity advice on the planet is to get up early. You do your best work while the day is young. There are fewer distractions in the morning, the emails haven’t come in yet, the phone isn’t ringing, the kids aren’t fighting or whining or demanding your attention, there’s less traffic. 

But, again, Marcus wouldn’t have had to contend with any of those things. He simply understood that his nature required waking up early. In a study led by two psychologists from the University of Toronto, early riser’s prove to experience increased well being in four areas of life—emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. “Waking up early may indeed make one happy as a lark,” researchers write, because of our “internal biological clock.” We are biologically wired to follow a specific circadian rhythm, which is tied to the sun’s. Our nature demands, as Marcus wrote some two thousand years ago, that we wake up with the sun, just like the birds and the ants and spiders and bees. 

No one, Seneca said, is more unhappy than those that sleep the day away. “We are base churls,” he wrote, “if we lie dozing when the sun is high in the heavens, or if we wake up only when noon arrives; and even then to many it seems not yet dawn.” Wake up early—it’s the first habit required for happiness and success.

Start A Journaling Habit

“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, Letters From A Stoic, 83.2

Thomas C. Corley, author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, conducted a five-year study of 177 self-made millionaires and found that nearly 50% of them woke up at least three hours before their workday began. So while getting up early is a great start, it is not enough. As Seneca said, it’s about what we do when we wake up. If we’re up at dawn but doze hours away to television or social media or cramming for a presentation we put off until the last minute, we are certainly not owning the morning; the morning is owning us. 

There’s few habits as time-tested and researched-backed as journaling. Oscar Wilde, Susan Sontag, W.H. Auden, Queen Victoria, John Quincy Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, Joan Didion, John Steinbeck, Sylvia Plath, Mary Chestnut, Brian Koppelman, Anaïs Nin, Franz Kafka, Martina Navratilova, Ben Franklin, and we’ll stop there—all journalers. And for good reason—it works. It clarifies the mind, provides room for quiet, private reflection, it gives one a record of their thoughts over time, it prepares you for the day ahead.

And the Stoics, of course, were big fans of journaling ( if you’re a Daily Stoic subscriber, you’ve definitely heard us say that in an email or two). Epictetus the slave. Marcus Aurelius the emperor. Seneca the power broker and playwright. These three radically different men led radically different lives. But journaling—they all had that habit in common. Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations consists of a collection of personal self-help notes, which he never intended to see the light of day. “No man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom,” Seneca wrote. “This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection.” And Epictetus encouraged his students to write down their thoughts and reflect upon their actions everyday. The Stoic “keeps watch over himself as over an enemy lying in ambush,” he said.

Preparing for the day ahead. Reflecting on the day that has passed. Reminding oneself of the wisdom we have learned from our teachers, from our reading, from our own experiences. It’s not enough to simply hear these lessons once, instead, one practices them over and over again, turns them over in their mind, and most importantly, writes them down and feels them flowing through their fingers in doing so. In this way, you could rightly say, journaling is Stoicism. A happy, successful life requires it. One cannot expect wisdom or self-mastery to simply arrive via epiphany. No, those states are acquired, little by little, practice by practice, journal by journal. Wake up with the sun, pour yourself some coffee, and start journaling!

Read Everyday

“Reading, I hold, is indispensable – primarily, to keep me from being satisfied with myself alone, and besides, after I have learned what others have found out by their studies, to enable me to pass judgment on their discoveries and reflect upon discoveries that remain to be made. Reading nourishes the mind and refreshes it when it is wearied with study; nevertheless, this refreshment is not obtained without study.” — Seneca, Letters From A Stoic, 84.1

We’re wound up. Our schedules are packed. Our email inboxes are flooded. We have stresses and worries and problems to solve. We’re successful yet unhappy. What should we do? How should we handle this? 

Relaxation, stillness, doing only what is essential, Marcus said, is the path to tranquility. Not vacations, or escapes from our responsibilities, 15-day silent retreats in the hills of Sri Lanka, but relaxation. “People look for retreats for themselves in the country, by the coast, or in the hills,” Marcus wrote. “There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind…So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.” 

As it turns out, one of the best forms of relaxation, of renewing yourself, of finding stillness is cheap if not free: reading. The great William Osler (founder of John Hopkins University and a fan of the Stoics) told his medical students it was important that they turn to literature as a way to nourish and relax their minds. “When chemistry distresses your soul,” he said, “seek peace in the great pacifier, Shakespeare, ten minutes with Montaigne will lighten the burden.” Shakespeare’s plays are free online to print out. Montaigne’s essays are a couple bucks as used copies on Amazon. Both these writers have provided centuries of pleasure and wisdom to minds even more stressed than yours. 

We know that Seneca and Marcus were big readers. Their works abound with quotes and allusions to plays and poets and the stories of history. They read to relax and to be at leisure. It kept their minds strong and clear. How could you not do the same? Why do you turn instead to the TV or to Twitter?

Let us follow Osler’s advice,

Start at once a bedside library and spend the last half-hour of the day in communion with the saints of humanity. There are great lessons to be learned from Job and from David, from Isaiah and St. Paul. Taught by Shakespeare you may take your intellectual and moral measure with singular precision. Learn to love Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Should you be so fortunate as to be born a Platonist, Jowett will introduce you to the great master through whom alone we can think in certain levels, and whose perpetual modernness startles and delights. Montaigne will teach you moderation in all things, and to be ‘sealed of his tribe’ is a special privilege.

Or, we’ll suggest, fifteen minutes to start the day, fifteen minutes to end the day. Drink deeply from history, from philosophy, from the books of journalists and the memoirs of geniuses. Study the cautionary tales and the screw ups, read about failures and successes. Water down your television time and read during commercial breaks. Take your lunch break with Shakespeare or Seneca or Montaigne or Plutarch. Read constantly. Read as a practice. Make it a habit!

Develop A Walking Habit

“Birds that are being prepared for the banquet, that they may be easily fattened through lack of exercise, are kept in darkness; and similarly, if men vegetate without physical activity, their idle bodies are overwhelmed with flesh, and in their self-satisfied retirement the fat of indolence grows upon them…But this, to my thinking, would be among the least of their evils. How much more darkness there is in their souls! Such a man is internally dazed.” — Seneca, Letters From A Stoic, 

In Dan Rather’s six decades in journalism, he’s reported on some of the most important historical events of his time—the Vietnam War, the Kennedy Assassination, the Watergate Scandal, the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, the Soviet-Afghan War. As a reporter, Dan Rather was on the scene, in the trenches for all of them. Add onto that his famous mistake—which some viewers will never forgive him for—and some 80 years of life on the planet, and you could say, to put it simply, Dan Rather has accumulated some experiences and wisdom. He shared a timeless piece of that wisdom with all of us:

One of my favorite things long has been taking a leisurely stroll with wife Jean at twilight time. My steps are getting slower and, increasingly, I have another journey on my mind—the one into eternity. But with it all, the joy—the sheer, unadulterated joy—of a hand-in-hand, slow walk as evening shadows fall never ceases. The contrast with the ever-present fast pace and screaming headlines of modern life is stark.

I gently recommend it. Just walk slowly in the time after the sun sets and before night descends. Feel the breeze, smell the flowers, hear the trees leaves rustle and the birds sing. Watch as the stars begin to emerge. If you must think any about the current state of the country and politics, remember: the outrageousness and dangers of Trump’s Time may last for awhile, but Twilight Time will last forever…on into eternity.

Marcus Aurelius gave himself similar advice, “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” Seneca talked about the importance of walking as a way to relieve the mind and body. “We should take wandering outdoor walks,” he wrote, “so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.” Indeed, philosophers have been walking to think and get perspective—in the mornings, in the afternoons, at sunset—for centuries. 

The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle, for example, conducted his lectures while walking around his school in Athens as his students followed him. Nietzsche reportedly walked up to eight hours a day with a notebook and pencil in hand, and said, “It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” Writers, poets, and scientists throughout the ages have all found that walking offers the additional benefit of time and space for better work and a happier life. Albert Einstein walked the mile and a half from his home to his office at Princeton University every day. Charles Darwin took three 45-minute walks per day, like meals for the mind. Ernest Hemingway would take long walks along the quais in Paris whenever he was stuck in his writing and needed to clarify his thinking. Steve Jobs daily schedule included several walks, as did those of the groundbreaking psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, the latter of whom wrote that “I did the best thinking of my life on leisurely walks with Amos.”

Today, it’s easier than ever to dwell on the negativity of life. Our phones are never-ending streams of chaos and distraction and screaming. Put that away. Go for a walk. 

Making Time For Mastery

“One person likes tending to his farm, another to his horse; I like to daily monitor my self-improvement.” — Epictetus, Discourses, III.5.14

Why was Marcus attending Sextus’ lectures throughout his reign? Why was he in his tent on the battlefield of Germania writing in his journal? Why did he practice everyday tasks with his left hand? Because he had a pretty important job and he wanted to succeed at it. “Mastery of reading and writing,” he said would be the key to his success, so “make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile.”

It would have been something Marcus picked up in reading Epictetus, who over and over again reminds his students that he only wanted those who were committed to a lifetime of training and improving. He said that he’d never seen someone “perfectly formed.” His baseline expectation? “At least show me someone actively forming themselves.” That’s all Epictetus wanted in his classroom: people focused on making progress, however incremental.

Yes, we’re busy. Yes, we (hopefully) love our jobs, and we need what those jobs provide, both in terms of financial security and fulfillment. Yes, making time to learn something new, to attend classes seemingly unrelated to your profession, seems selfish when there’s people relying on us. But it isn’t selfish. It’s selfless. You know what happens when you improve? Everyone around you improves too.

Marcus knew that. People sneered at him for attending those philosophy lectures. Shouldn’t the emperor be spending his time on more important matters. “Learning is a good thing, even for one who is growing old,” he’d reply. “From Sextus the philosopher I shall learn what I do not yet know.” Not everyone could see it, but Marcus knew he was bettering his people by bettering himself. Now he’s hailed as history’s only philosopher king, fulfilling both his childhood dream of being a successful philosopher and Hadrian’s dream of Marcus being a successful king. 

Maybe you’re the CEO of a multinational, how much better of a leader would you be if you mastered another language and could better communicate and connect with your foreign employees. Maybe you’re an entrepreneur, how much better would you be at pitching investors if you mastered public speaking? Maybe you’re climbing the corporate ladder, how much better would you be at navigating the office politics if you knew a book like 48 Laws of Power front to back and back to front. 

If you’re not constantly learning and improving and adding new skills to your game, what are you doing? You’re stagnant, you’re running on the hamster wheel, you’re in what David Epstein calls the “rut of competence.” We make sure we never find ourselves in one by constantly learning and pursuing new skills. We have to build it into our day. We have to embrace what Epictetus calls “profitable difficulty”: making routine out of seeking what does not come natural, on opening ourselves to possibilities otherwise left dormant, on improving. There’s no success or happiness without it. There’s only a rut.

Connect With People You Love

“Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings.”  —Epictetus, The Art Of Living, p.150

Seneca wrote 124 Letters to Lucilius. 124 letters. Nearly five hundred pages of carefully thought out prose…to one friend. Why? Because “no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour, if you would live for yourself.” 

Although Stoicism is a philosophy that stresses independence and strength, moral rectitude and inner-life, it’s essential that we don’t mistake this as a justification for isolation or loneliness. We are not islands, we are social animals. Only the beasts can get through this alone. We need community, we need friends. We get something out of giving, and we are made better for caring and being cared for. That’s what the Stoic idea of sympatheia is really about—the warm, snug feeling of knowing you’re a part of a larger whole. 

Relationships are key to a good life. We cannot neglect them. Our friends, our kids, our spouse, our siblings, parents, coworkers, that guy we see every morning at Starbucks—these people make life worth living. We are social beings. Marcus wrote it repeatedly. It’s what we were made for. It’s why we feel so good after surprising our wife with flowers. It’s why we get a hit of dopamine when your mom’s excitement pours out of the text that she received the letter you wrote her. It’s why we feel lousy when we’re sitting at our desk, missing our kids soccer game. 

It’s why we need to prioritize relationships. To connect. To reach out to that lost-touch-with favorite coach or teacher or mentor. To write a letter. To have dinner as a family. To have our morning coffee over FaceTime with our parents. To call our friends for no real reason except to let them know you’re thinking about them. 

There’s just no way around it: there’s no happiness or success in isolation. It might as well be called a law. In fact, Seneca did: “I can lay down for mankind a rule, in short compass, for our duties in human relationships: all that you behold, that which comprises both god and man, is one – we are the parts of one great body. Nature produced us related to one another, since she created us from the same source and to the same end. She engendered in us mutual affection, and made us prone to friendships.” Are you following the rule of mankind? You have to!

Adopt Healthy Eating Habits

“Since of all creatures on earth, the human being is the most closely related to the gods, he must be nourished like the gods. The vapors coming from earth and water are enough for them: what we must do…is get food like that—the lightest and most pure food. If we do this, our soul would be both pure and dry, and being such, it would be best and wisest.” — Musonius Rufus, Lectures and Fragments, 18.3

A student once asked Epictetus how he ought to eat. This, Epictetus replied, was simple. The right way to eat is the same as the right way to live: be “justly and equitably, in moderation, with restraint and self-control.” He meant that meals embody the principles and the disposition of the person who eats them. Food means choices and choices mean a chance to fulfill our principles. He uses the metaphor of living life as if at a banquet buffet, and how rarely people seem to be able to control themselves and their appetites. 

Epictetus was not alone. Philosophers have been experimenting with food for centuries in hopes of finding the best ways to be healthy and to enjoy life. Seneca writes of the nauseating culinary excesses of his time. Posidonius, an early Stoic, was particularly appalled by a certain large and unhealthy man named Apicius who loved to gorge himself and whose name came to be a synonym for “gourmand” in his own time. 

To the Stoics, this was all dangerous and to be avoided. In the first book of Meditations, titled “Debts and Lessons,” Marcus Aurelius marvels at how Antoninus Pius, one of the truly great Roman Emperors, kept a simple diet so he could work from dawn to dusk, so he could be at the service of the people for longer, so he could reserve mental energy and conserve time for the important things. And In her beautiful book Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar has Hadrian write to Marcus Aurelius that “overeating is a Roman vice, but moderation has always been my delight.” He explains that far too many people “poison themselves with spice” and drown themselves in sauce. Simple pleasures were better. Fitness was essential. 

The Stoics believed in keeping themselves in fighting shape—at fighting weight—not for appearance’s sake but because they believed life was a kind of battle. You had to be ready for it. They also knew, as you know, that when we feel awful, we act awfully. A person disgusted with themselves has less patience for others. A person who easily loses their breath more easily loses their temper…or their self-control. We must avoid the vice of overdoing our overeating. Moderation must be our delight. 

Review The Day

“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, Letters From A Stoic, 83.2

Winston Churchill was famously afraid of going to bed at the end of the day having not created, written or done anything that moved his life forward. “Every night,” he wrote, “I try myself by Court Martial to see if I have done anything effective during the day. I don’t mean just pawing the ground, anyone can go through the motions, but something really effective.” 

Seneca had the same habit of examining his day and his actions. As he put it, “When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by.”

That’s what success and happiness require. Self-awareness. Self-reflection.

Writing, analyzing, reflecting, interrogating, taking inventory of how you spent the day—this is how you continue improving. Ask yourself questions. Question each experience, each day. Why was it so hard to wake up early? Why am I glad I did it? Why couldn’t I spare ten minutes to go for a walk? What progress did I make with that new skill? How did I feel after that call with an old friend? Where did I fall short today? What can I learn from it? 

Through reflection, you begin to understand with greater certainty what you want your life to look like. Leo Tolstoy said, “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?” Those are the questions he grappled with in his journal, which he called “an instrument of self-perfection.” And when Dutch scientist Marije Elferink-Gemser studied the qualities that helps people reach peak performance, she found that “reflection is…a key factor in expert learning and refers to the extent to which individuals are able to appraise what they have learned and to integrate these experiences into future actions, thereby maximizing performance improvements.”

Did I follow my plans for the day? Was I prepared enough? What could I do better? What have I learned that will help me tomorrow? These simple questions make an enormous impact. Spend some time every night answering them. 

IV. How Are Habits Formed?

As we mentioned at the top, Epictetus said habit formation was like fueling a fire. But he put it even more plainly and brilliantly: 

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, then begin to count the days on which you don’t get mad…the vice begins to weaken from day one, until it is wiped out altogether.

Whatever the habit, it begins to find strength from day one. Every corresponding action fuels the fire. That is why, to the Stoics, the most important aspect of habit formation is starting. Today’s leading experts all agree. The writer James Clear talks about the idea of “atomic habits”—small acts that make an enormous difference in your life. Leo Babatua talks similarly about making it so ridiculously easy, “you won’t say no. You’ll feel crazy if you don’t do it. And so you’ll actually do it!” You want to start working out? Commit to doing five push-ups. You want to eat healthier? Commit to eating one serving of vegetables a day. You want to floss regularly? Commit to flossing one tooth. You want to write a book? Commit to writing one sentence. 

Why does the ancient “start small” strategy that Epictetus lectured some two thousand years ago work? Well, it’s helpful to understand the modern research. Elliot Berkman, director of the University of Oregon’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Lab, the process of habit formation is rooted in a neurological loop, made up of the three stages:

[*] It begins with a cue — the trigger (a time of day, a certain place, the presence of certain people, a particular emotion).

[*] Next is the routine  — the habit or behavior itself.

[*] Last is the reward — the anchor, that hit of dopamine, reinforcing the brain to be on high alert for that cue that sparks that routine that brings that reward.

For instance: you just got home from work (cue), so you crack a beer (routine), because you want to forget the tough day at work (reward). Or, you just woke up (cue), so you go for a run (routine), because you feel great after a sweat (reward). That reward creates and then cements a craving. It doesn’t take long for your brain to associate walking in the door with needing a beer or waking up with needing to go for a run. This is the “habit loop.” It’s easy to see why as time goes on, a behavior becomes more and more automatic.

Epictetus intuited it, neuroscientists and habit experts (like Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit) proved it. The key to habit formation, ancient and modern, is the same—start small.

How Are Habits Broken?

Sharon Lebell’s The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness gives a wonderful definition of what Stoicism is designed to do. “Philosophy’s purpose,” she writes, “is to illuminate the ways our soul has been infected by unsound beliefs, untrained tumultuous desires, and dubious life choices and preferences that are unworthy of us. Self-scrutiny applied with kindness is the main antidote.”

Kicking bad habits—philosophy was designed to help do that. In fact, Seneca said it explicitly. In one of Seneca’s letters excerpted in the wonderful new translation of How To Die, by James Romm, we get this little declaration: “My days have this one goal, as do my nights; this is my task and my study, to put an end to old evils.” Notice what this very accomplished writer and powerbroker didn’t say his goals were. It wasn’t to make more money, to pass new laws, to write more brilliant words to dazzle the masses, or anything of the sort. 

He said his goal was to put an end to his own bad habits. That’s it. Nothing else really mattered. Or at least it didn’t matter compared to whether he was making progress as a person. 

How did he do it?

As James Clear puts it: You don’t eliminate a bad habit, you replace it. Seneca, we safely presume, had a bad temper and overindulged his anger until it became a problem. Why else would he have written some two hundred pages in a single essay on anger? It’s the kind of polemic that could only have come from experience. It’s in that essay that Seneca writes:

“Angry people should avoid weighty undertakings, or at least those that push them past the point of exhaustion; their minds should not be employed in difficulties but given over to enjoyable arts. Let the reading of poetry calm them and history amuse them with its stories; let them be diverted gently and sensitively.” — Seneca, On Anger, 3.9

When he felt his temper boiling up, it became a cue for Seneca to find his pen. Remember the habit loop we just described above? Cue, routine, reward. Seneca wasn’t going to stop getting angry (cue), but he could stop indulging that anger (behavior). Say you drink (behavior) when you’re stressed (cue). Stress is hard to completely kick. So zero in on the behavior. What can you replace it with. Can you journal instead of drink? Go for a run? A swim? Read? Take a walk? Practice that skill you’re working on mastering? 

That’s the only way to break a bad habit. Replace it with a good one!

VI. What Are The Best Books On Habits?

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits by Gretchen Rubin

Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise 

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg

VII. What Are The Best Quotes About Habits?

“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.” — Epictetus

“Adopt new habits … Consolidate your principles by putting them into practice.” — Epictetus 

“Assemble your life… action by action. And be satisfied if each one achieves its goal… No one can keep that from happening…Action by action.” — Marcus Aurelius

“Excellence withers without an adversary.” — Seneca

“But what does Socrates say? ‘Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.'” — Epictetus

“If your soul be habitually in practice, you will plead and teach, listen and learn, investigate and meditate. What more is necessary?” — Seneca

“In the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit. Since all that I’ve said is the case, the person in training must seek to rise above, so as to stop seeking out pleasure and steering away from pain.” — Musonius Rufus

“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.” — Epictetus

“Don’t go expecting Plato’s Republic; be satisfied with even the smallest progress.” — Marcus Aurelius

“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.” — Epictetus

Daily Stoic sifted through the greatest Stoic wisdom and aimed it at one of the most challenging parts of life: habit formation and growth. Check out Daily Stoic Habits for Success, Habits for Success Challenge! Challenge yourself to change what you “repeatedly do.” We are promising that if you can do that, you can achieve excellence—personally and professionally. 

The post The Power of Habits: What The Ancients Knew About Making Good Ones & Breaking Bad Ones appeared first on Daily Stoic.

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How To Remain Calm When The Rest Of The World Is Freaking Out: 9 Tips From The Stoics https://dailystoic.com/how-to-remain-calm-when-the-rest-of-the-world-is-freaking-out-9-tips-from-the-stoics/ Wed, 06 May 2020 21:28:12 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8547 It’s no question that the world is an alarming place right now. Iran is saber rattling in the Middle East. China is ascendant. North Korea is a rogue state with nuclear capabilities. The oceans are rising. Rhetoric grows more hateful and more divisive. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across the globe, resulting …

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The post How To Remain Calm When The Rest Of The World Is Freaking Out: 9 Tips From The Stoics appeared first on Daily Stoic.

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It’s no question that the world is an alarming place right now. Iran is saber rattling in the Middle East. China is ascendant. North Korea is a rogue state with nuclear capabilities. The oceans are rising. Rhetoric grows more hateful and more divisive. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic is sweeping across the globe, resulting in nationwide quarantines with no real timeline for when things will return to normal.

It was all so sudden too. Just two months ago the economy was near an all-time high, we had travel plans, and we thought we had a pretty good idea what the rest of the year held. Now, many of us are unemployed, stuck at home indefinitely, or both. It’s enough to make even the strongest among us panic. And this is natural. The Stoics wrote that fear is an initial reaction that is out of our control. But that staying afraid is a choice.

Using 2,000 year old wisdom, we put together this guide to help you remain calm so you can make better decisions and, hopefully, come out on the other side better than you were before.

Accept What’s Outside Of Your Control, Get To Work On What Is

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.” — Epictetus, The Art Of Living

For many of us, the worst part of this crisis is the helplessness we feel in the face of it. If you own a business, chances are that your sales have suffered or you’ve had to temporarily close down, if not worse. If you live with an elderly or at-risk person, you’re likely doing your best to isolate them but still living with the fact that, ultimately, it may not be enough. In the face of so much we can’t control, so many things that won’t change no matter how hard we try, it’s easy to forget how much we can do, even if it doesn’t feel like much.

In The Art Of Living, Epictetus continues; “Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us. These areas are quite rightly our concern, because they are directly subject to our influence. We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.” For today, we can add to this using our time wisely, not panicking, and doing what we can to slow the spread of the virus. Outside of our control is how long the pandemic will last and the coming ramifications that it will bring on the world.

For now, do your best to always keep your mind focused on what it can do and do it. The rest is out of our control.

Focus On The Smallest Thing You Can Do Right Now

“Concentrate every minute like a Roman— like a man— on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can— if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.”-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the importance of becoming just one percent better every day. This may not seem like much but he writes “The difference a tiny improvement can make over time is astounding. Here’s how the math works out: if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.” None of us know how long the crisis will last or how long we’re going to be stuck at home. But we are in control of what we do to improve during this time. Don’t be fooled, the version of you that comes out of quarantine can be much better than the person that went in, if you make tiny positive changes every single day.

Zeno said it best: “Well being is realized by small steps, but it is no small thing.”

Examine The Costs Of Panicking Or Emotional Reaction

“How much more harmful are the consequences of anger and grief than the circumstances that aroused them in us!” — Marcus Aurelius

The astronaut Chris Hadfield has said, about space travel, that “there is no problem so bad you can’t make it worse.” The same concept applies to everyday life. All you have to do is think back, have you ever been proud of anything you did out of anger? Have you ever had to endure the shame of having to see the same damaged hole in the wall for weeks and months after your emotions have come and gone? Anger has never helped you before so why would it help now? History is full of examples of people who made decisions they regretted their whole lives under its influence! Understand, all giving in to panic or fear or anger will do is take away your ability to keep a cool head and do what needs to be done right now. 

When things are falling apart, it’s natural for our first reaction to be emotional. It can’t be helped. But just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. According to the Stoics, human beings are endowed with the power of reason precisely to protect us from these reactions. It’s why Seneca said that “the best remedy for anger is delay,” and Marcus advised “quickly return to yourself and do not continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts.” Remember, nothing is made better by panicking, don’t feed your emotions. Instead, try and constantly bring your mind back to a place of stillness. A place from where it can make better decisions and be better equipped to handle whatever gets thrown at it.

Seek Stillness

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.” – Seneca

If you’re reading this, chances are that where you live is either on lockdown or actively encouraging people to stay home to stop the spread of the virus. It’s not convenient, but it doesn’t matter. It’s what everybody has to do to stop the spread of the virus and protect the people that can’t protect themselves. Being stuck at home may be anxiety-inducing, our roommates may not be easy to live with. But what if instead we saw this time as a unique opportunity to slow down. To recalibrate our priorities. It’s definitely a lot easier to do this now when you know everybody’s in the same boat. So why not spend this time getting to know yourself, spending some time alone and just observing your thoughts?

You certainly couldn’t do this when you were constantly surrounded by other people and even if you’re worried about what the future holds, would it really hurt if you made it a point to stop worrying for at least a small portion of the day? How much better could you be if instead you used some of this time to learn a new skill or adopt a new hobby? Don’t forget that the person who comes out of quarantine can be better than the person who went in. You can be more thoughtful, considerate, and helpful to others if you resolve to make the best use of this time while you have the opportunity.

And if it’s hard at first, keep in mind what Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius “You have to persevere and fortify your pertinacity until the will to good becomes a disposition to good.” Stillness isn’t easy to find, it’s a constant practice, and the search for it can often be more frustrating than not. But it’s a skill that nobody will be able to take from you, no matter what happens. 

Have Confidence In Your Ability To Make The Best Of Anything

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

As we’ve said, we have no control over how long the pandemic is going to last but nothing changes that, whether we want to or not, we all have to go through it. Marcus writes elsewhere in his Meditations “a blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it.” This, coming from a man who, during his time as emperor, had to lead his people through a crisis much like the one we’re facing now, except with almost none of the benefits of modern medicine, seems particularly fitting now. Remember Epictetus’s words, “The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic class material.” Both of these men knew that there’s no use in bemoaning the obstacles in front of us. And that, more than anything, these obstacles provide the necessary fuel to make us stronger, better, and more resilient.

Remember what Marcus said to comfort himself during the Antonine plague, “To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before, and will happen again—the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging.” If we stop and look at those that came before us; those that faced unimaginable hardship and yet still not only overcame it but became better for it, we can gain the necessary perspective to know that we are capable of doing the same thing. And by doing so, we can inspire others to do the same. Have confidence in your ability to make the best of anything.

Limit Your News Consumption

“Do the things external which fall upon you distract you? Give yourself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around.” — Marcus Aurelius

There’s no doubt that whatever impact COVID-19 has had on the place we live, has made even the best of us at least a little anxious. So what do we do to deal with this anxiety? We go on twitter. We watch the news. We check out what’s going on five thousand miles away from us.  There’s a reason that the first principle Epictetus gives for living a happy life in The Art Of Living is to distinguish between what you can and can’t control. It helps you see what you can actually improve on. But what do all these things have in common? We’re going out of our ways to focus on the exact opposite of this.

There’s nothing wrong with being updated on what’s going on. It’s important. But deliberately choosing to make most of what you expose yourself veer negative? Not only can you do nothing about the majority of what you see on the news but it takes time away from actively making a positive difference in your own life. Hundreds of thousands may be living in homeless shelters, sick, and in need of help. But how many of us can afford to help hundreds of thousands of people? Now, how many of us can help one or two people? The point is that most of what we call being informed not only has little to no relevance to our own lives but it takes us away from leading the good life. From putting all of our attention and effort into becoming better and making a difference where we can. 

Understand, it’s most important to remain calm in times of crisis; when chaos seems to reign supreme. And peace can only come from being centered, from “doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions.” So, during this time of social isolation, find something that you can do to help yourself, even if that something is just learning to manage your emotions. This situation may be awful but doing at least one thing right is much better than feeling helpless in the face of something so much bigger than ourselves. Limit your inputs.

Stick To A Routine

“In many circumstances, we do not deal with our affairs in accordance with correct assumptions, but rather we follow thoughtless habit.” — Musonius Rufus

No matter what was going on in the empire, Marcus Aurelius made sure to carve out some time for quiet reflection every morning, it’s what eventually left us with his Meditations. Seneca reflected similarly every evening, considering this reflection one of the most essential parts of his day.. Both of them understood that when times are at their most chaotic is when it’s most important to create some semblance of order for ourselves. A routine gives us a sense of certainty about our days; no matter what else happens, we know we’ll go for a walk in the morning or sit down to read for 30 minutes after lunch. 

Routines also have a calming effect; they let our brains start the morning off on the right foot or power down to get a good night’s sleep. Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s television show host, woke up at the same time every day for an hour of prayer and meditation before going for a swim. This routine helped set the tone for his days and allowed him to maintain his trademark demeanor even when dealing with the most difficult of people. It also allotted him the proper amount of reflection that’s necessary for the flourishing of any human being. 

Understand, a routine is something you can control. In the calm of morning before the kids are awake, whether or not the job market is exploding, you can stick to the rituals you know will bring you peace. And this, in turn, will let you approach your daily obstacles not with the frenzy of fear and anxiety, but from a better place. A place of calm and stillness.

Take Care Of Your Relationships

“I can lay down for mankind a rule, in short compass, for our duties in human relationships: all that you behold, that which comprises both god and man, is one – we are the parts of one great body. Nature produced us related to one another, since she created us from the same source and to the same end. She engendered in us mutual affection, and made us prone to friendships.” — Seneca

Epictetus wrote that our duties are revealed through our relations with one another and that “once you know who you are and to whom you are linked, you will know what to do.” Marcus similarly said, “Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.” Elsewhere in the Meditations he even told himself “When you wish to delight yourself, think of the virtues of those who live with you…For nothing delights so much as the examples of the virtues when they are exhibited in the morals of those who live with us, and present themselves in abundance as far as is possible.” 

Although Stoicism is a philosophy that stresses independence and strength, moral rectitude and inner-life, it’s essential that we don’t mistake this as a justification for isolation or loneliness. We are not islands, we are social animals. Only the beasts can get through this alone. We need community, we need friends. We get something out of giving, and we are made better for caring and being cared for. That’s what the idea of sympatheia is really about—the warm, snug feeling of knowing you’re a part of a larger whole. Relationships make life worth living. It is key to a good life. Do not neglect them. 

So, as you go through this difficult time, remember this: It’s both your duty and your obligation to be there for those you love, even if it’s just by giving them someone they can talk to and confide in. This is what makes life worth living and gives us a sense of purpose. It’s why Viktor Frankl wrote “I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved,” after his experience being held prisoner in a series of German concentration camps. In the worst possible moments, love is what sustains us and gives life a sense of meaning and purpose when nothing else can. Take care of your relationships.

———

Dead Time Or Alive Time?

Just because we’re stuck indoors doesn’t mean that this time has been taken from us. We don’t have to sit around watching Netflix or refreshing our news feeds the whole day. Instead, we can use this time to learn new skills, hone our critical thinking skills, and learn to manage our emotions so we can be as productive as possible no matter what the circumstances are. We created the Daily Stoic Alive Time Challenge to help you do just that. The 14 actionable challenges are designed to help you make sure that the person who steps out of social isolation is better than the person who went in. It comes with access to a group Slack channel for accountability, over 10,000 words of exclusive content, and a daily audio companion from author Ryan Holiday. Plus, we’re giving five dollars of every sale to Feeding America. We hope you’ll check it out.

Additional Resources

When the System Breaks Down, Leaders Stand Up

Remember: You Don’t Control What Happens, You Control How You Respond

Building an Inner Fortress in a World at War: Marcus Aurelius and Stoic Anxiety Management Techniques

How To Find Peace: 8 Stoic Lessons You Can Start Today

4 Strategies For Achieving Calm In Troubled Times

The post How To Remain Calm When The Rest Of The World Is Freaking Out: 9 Tips From The Stoics appeared first on Daily Stoic.

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How To Plan Your Day Like Marcus Aurelius https://dailystoic.com/marcus-aurelius-daily-habits/ Wed, 29 Apr 2020 21:19:36 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8491 We took the best Stoic tactics for better habits and created the Daily Stoic Habits for Success, Habits for Happiness challenge. 6-weeks to your best habits. Learn more here. Two thousand years ago, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote his personal thoughts and observations in a journal he titled “To Himself.” It wasn’t meant for publication. …

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We took the best Stoic tactics for better habits and created the Daily Stoic Habits for Success, Habits for Happiness challenge. 6-weeks to your best habits. Learn more here.

Two thousand years ago, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote his personal thoughts and observations in a journal he titled “To Himself.” It wasn’t meant for publication. It was simply where he reflected on the lessons he learned from the philosophy he lived by. While Marcus was known as the last of the “Five Good Emperors of Rome,” his position and power alone are not why we still echo his name today. We remember Marcus because of the honesty in the words he wrote to himself. Today, that journal is now widely published as Meditations

According to a recent article by The Guardian, print sales of Meditations are up 28% for the first quarter of 2020. In the last four weeks, ebook sales rose 356%. With the COVID-19 crisis and the ever-growing unemployment rate, it’s no surprise that Marcus’ words have once again been a source of relief and strength. As many of us sit at home and read through the Emperor’s journal, the question of how Marcus spent his days is bound to pop up.  

Thanks to his prolific journaling, we have a good understanding of what a typical day might have looked like for the Emperor. This article will lay that out so you can insert Marcus’ habits into your everyday life. This is how the modern Stoic can live like Marcus Aurelius:

Wake Up Early and Get To Work

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’” — Marcus Aurelius

At the beginning of Book 5 in Meditations, Marcus reminds himself of the difficulty we all face in getting out of bed. He has this incredibly relatable conversation with himself, as he writes “Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being?” Even someone who was as wise and disciplined as Marcus still needed to remind himself to leave the comfort of his bed. Beyond the encouragement to wake up and start the day, Marcus made a profound argument. As he points out, everything in nature is working—doing what it was born to do to keep the world turning. Marcus purposefully shames himself by asking the question “Is this what you were created for?” Ouch.

And no, it’s not. Marcus recognized that human beings are not exempt from doing their part, regardless of social status. We all work in the warehouse of nature. Every single lifeform is serving and working, working and serving. It’s our duty not only as human beings but especially as Stoics, to keep this in mind when we feel like sleeping in or not contributing. Every day, we must remember to do our part for the world. To fail in that endeavor is to go against nature itself, and to take the gift of being human for granted. The Stoics would, of course, disagree with the former and the latter. 

Take Time To Journal

“The recognition that I needed to train and discipline my character. Not to be sidetracked by my interest in rhetoric. Not to write treatises on abstract questions, or deliver moralizing little sermons, or compose imaginary descriptions of The Simple Life or The Man Who Lives Only for Others. To steer clear of oratory, poetry and belles lettres. Not to dress up just to stroll around the house, or things like that. To write straightforward.” — Marcus Aurelius

Despite his admitted struggles to get out of his warm, comfortable bed, Marcus Aurelius seems to have done his journaling first thing in the morning. From what we can gather, he would jot down notes about what he was likely to face in the day ahead. He talked about how frustrating people might be and how to forgive them, he talked about the temptations he would experience and how to resist them, he humbled himself by remembering how small we are in the grand scheme of things, and journaled on not letting the immense power he could wield corrupt him. Marcus utilized journaling as a way to audit his behavior. As he puts it in the quote above, he needed to find a way to train and discipline his character. As do we. 

It’s unfortunate that the idea of journaling tends to turn a lot of people off. Many view the practice as a chore or insist that they lack the time. As with any habit, we have to make it a priority in order to succeed. No one is asking you to write a Ron Chernow-Esque biographical epic (though his books are amazing). It could be as simple as listing three things you’re grateful for every morning or reflecting on your day in just a few sentences. Whatever it is, start small. All that matters is that you’re reviewing your behavior and auditing whether your actions match your guiding principles. This isn’t to say that you should judge yourself, but you should certainly hold yourself accountable. Marcus did it. Seneca did it. Petrarch, Montaigne, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Ronald Reagan, Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Ludwig van Beethoven—they all kept a journal as well. We’d be wise to follow suit. 

Prepare for the Day Ahead

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.” — Marcus Aurelius

The above quote would cause most readers to believe that Marcus viewed people with a pessimistic lens. That could not be further from the truth. When Marcus writes this description of people, he’s talking about Premeditatio Malorum, or negative visualization; the ability to anticipate the worst so that we can adequately prepare ourselves for the challenges that lie ahead. One can only imagine how difficult it was for Marcus, a man of temperance and discipline, to put up with the slimy politicians and pompous noblemen who he encountered on a daily basis. By mentally preparing himself for the people he might encounter, Marcus was ready to handle anyone, no matter how difficult or abrasive they may be. 

The Stoic doesn’t see negative visualization as pessimistic, but simply a feature of their undying optimism. Every day there are people and things that will annoy and distract us, but it is within our power to not let that happen. It all depends on our perception. We can’t take responsibility for other peoples’ behavior, but we can take responsibility for our own. So if you want to have a great day, think about all the ways it might go sideways. Be prepared for that. Think about how you’d handle it, all the things you would need to do in response. Practice being calm in the face of chaos. Remember that people will be depending on you and that’s why you need to respond accordingly. Consider what steps you can take now in anticipation.

Tackle The Most Important Task First

“Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.” — Marcus Aurelius

It’s likely that Marcus would tackle his most difficult tasks first. He didn’t believe in procrastination or putting things off. From his stepfather Antoninus, Marcus learned how to work long hours and “stay in the saddle”. He writes in Meditations that he even admired the way Antoninus scheduled his bathroom breaks, as they allowed him to work for long, uninterrupted periods. Marcus never shirked hard work or avoided his most unpleasant duties. He had a job to do and he didn’t complain about it. “Never be overheard complaining,” he wrote, “not even to yourself”. 

Putting off our responsibilities is easy. Complaining is easy. Both are as natural to us as breathing.  But what good has either ever done for anyone in the long run? Sure, shaking your fist at the sky and venting your frustrations can feel liberating in the moment, but has it ever changed your circumstances for the better, solved your problems or made you happier? Has procrastinating ever made your life less stressful and more efficient? We’re willing to bet the answer is no. This is why we must follow Marcus’ lead and tackle our most important tasks first. If we can win that battle first, the rest of the day will be a breeze.  

Seek Stillness

“Anyone with a feeling for nature—a deeper sensitivity—will find it all gives pleasure. Even what seems inadvertent. He’ll find the jaws of live animals as beautiful as painted ones or sculptures. He’ll look calmly at the distinct beauty of old age in men, women, and at the loveliness of children. And other things like that will call out to him constantly—things unnoticed by others. Things seen only by those at home with Nature and its works.” — Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius had a lot to worry about. His adoptive father, Antoninus Pius, by contrast, had enjoyed a famously peaceful reign. Marcus was not so lucky. It seems that Fate tested him with one catastrophe after another. Wars, floods, political turmoil, and a serious pandemic all rested on his shoulders. So how did Marcus relax? What did he do to decompress and achieve stillness in his daily life

We know from the many references throughout Meditations that Marcus was active. He enjoyed boxing, wrestling, hunting and horseback riding. These were all common hobbies for men who resided in the upper echelon of Roman society. As a Roman, Marcus would have also found peace and relaxation in one of the many bath houses across the empire. In Budapest, you can still sit in the same hot and cold thermal pools that Marcus would have used to wash away the dust of everyday life

It’s also apparent in Marcus’ journal that reading was a huge part of his life. It’s unknown to us when exactly he read and how often, but Marcus knew that he had to read in order to lead. He was always studying to be better. We have some indication as to how Marcus read at the beginning of Meditations, when he thanks Junius Rusticus for teaching him to read attentively and not to be satisfied with “just getting the gist of it.”

Whether it’s making time to be active or going for a long walk through the woods every morning, we have to make time for stillness. We may not be leaders of expansive empires, but we all have our own stress and responsibilities that we have to manage. The best way to do that is to stop. To slow down. And take a moment to bathe in the beauty that surrounds us. 

Remember, You Will Die

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” — Marcus Aurelius

Aside from his morning journal entries, the most philosophical part of Marcus’ day was at night. As he tucked his children into bed and said goodnight to them, he would think to himself don’t rush this, this might be the last time you do this. It’s not a guarantee that either of you will make it through the night. From a historical perspective, it makes sense that Marcus approached his children with this mindset. His wife Faustina bore thirteen children during their marriage. By the time Marcus passed away in 180 AD, only five of his children remained. Only five.

Meditating on your mortality is a must. It is a tool to create priority and meaning. It’s a tool that generations have used to create real perspective and urgency. In contemplating death, we define our purpose. This is why we have to remind ourselves of human frailty every day. Simply put, every breath we take subtracts from the number of total breaths we have left. Always keep that in mind. 

If we wish to plan our days like Marcus, then our schedule should maximize our time and direct our attention to the things that matter most. Marcus lived a successful life because he practiced good habits—habits for success and happiness. That’s why we’ve created a course to help you cultivate good habits as well. 

In the end, the duty of a Stoic in its most basic form is this: to put each breath to good use, to live virtuously, and to accept fate as a friend rather than a foe. If we can do that, then we’ll lead the life that this philosophy encourages us to embrace.  A Stoic life. Just as Marcus Aurelius did. 

For more on developing better habits, check out our Habits for Success, Habits for Happiness Course. Join us on a 6-week course to better habits. We’ve sifted through the greatest Stoic wisdom and aimed it at one of the most challenging parts of life: habit formation and growth. Learn more here.

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How To Think Like Shakespeare: An Interview With Scott Newstok https://dailystoic.com/scott-newstok-interview/ Tue, 21 Apr 2020 17:28:36 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8413 Frustrated by modernity’s approach to education and the way we think of thinking, award-winning professor, author, and parent Scott Newstok set out to demystify the making of one of history’s greatest minds and unlock the keys to intellectual brilliance in his masterful new book How To Think Shakespeare. A teacher at Rhodes College and the founding …

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Frustrated by modernity’s approach to education and the way we think of thinking, award-winning professor, author, and parent Scott Newstok set out to demystify the making of one of history’s greatest minds and unlock the keys to intellectual brilliance in his masterful new book How To Think Shakespeare. A teacher at Rhodes College and the founding director of the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment, Dr. Newstok’s work has been recognized by fellowships from the American Philosophical Society and the Folger Shakespeare Library, among other institutions. We had the great fortune of talking to Dr. Newstok about his new book, Shakespearean habits and practices, some of the common themes between Stoicism and Shakespeare’s work, and much more. Please enjoy this interview with Scott Newstok and check out his new book How To Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education!

We know you’re a voracious reader. Have you read much of the Stoics? Do you have a favorite? Any quotes or exercises that have especially resonated with you? 

I’m blessed to be friends with the philosopher Scott Samuelson; he’s been introducing me to the Stoics since we first met, some thirty years ago. Just last fall I re-read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, whose maxim “life itself is but what you deem it” resembles Hamlet’s insight: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

And that famous As You Like It conceit, “All the world’s a stage,” chimes with Epictetus’s injunction: “remember that thou art one of the players in an interlude, and must play the part which the author thereof shall appoint” (from James Sanford’s 1567 translation of the Enchiridion).

Your new book How To Think Shakespeare details the habits and practices vital to Shakespeare’s intellectual formation. Can you give our readers one or two that they can implement into their daily routine?

Little that I say here is new. But if it’s true that that There is nothing worth thinking but it has been thought before, then it’s also true that we must only try to think it again.

So here’s something obvious that Shakespeare’s peers did, and that we know still works: keep a “commonplace book.” Jot down new words, favorite phrases, ideas caught in passing. Anything that your

memory cannot contain

Commit to these waste blanks.

In such a notebook, an aspiring young thinker archives choice thoughts for later reflection, and eventual action. According to one Renaissance treatise,

it is singular good, to have some pretie sprinckled judgement in the common places and practizes of all the liberall sciences, chopt up in hotchpot togither, out of the whiche we may still help ourselves in talke.

By compiling commonplace thoughts of others, we can better shape our own words.

I’m suggesting that to think like Shakespeare, we need to reconsider the habits that shaped his mind, including practices as simple as transcribing quotations. Doing these things doesn’t mean that you will become “the next Shakespeare”; neither you nor I have the same alchemy of talents and circumstances as anyone else. And as Erasmus insisted: even Cicero wouldn’t write like Cicero if he were alive today. But Shakespearean thinking does demand a deliberate engagement with the past to help you best make up your mind in the present.

You have a great line in the book about how there’s a sense in Shakespeare’s early writing that he was trying to “out-blood Seneca.” We are always looking to understand the influence Stoicism has had on the great figures throughout history. Can you expand on Shakespeare’s interest in the philosophy and the common themes between him and Seneca?

Well, to be clear, when I said “out-blood,” I meant Seneca’s legacy as a tragedian, which differs from his reception as a Stoic thinker.

What does Shakespeare learn from Senecan drama? His early tragedy Titus Andronicus seems preoccupied with showing that he knows (and can exceed) the genre’s conventions, down to citing Latin tag-phrases and deploying Senecan (and Marlovian) rhetorical bombast. But Seneca’s plays don’t actually include the stock “Stoic” character that we find in, say, Horatio. For that matter, the only instance of the word “Stoic” in Shakespeare’s work occurs in an abrupt dismissal from The Taming of the Shrew: “Let’s be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray.”

What did Shakespeare learn from Seneca as a philosopher? I think that’s a bit harder to discern. It likely came indirectly, through other writers who had absorbed the Epistles (which weren’t translated into English until 1614, just after Shakespeare retired). Francis Bacon cited Seneca’s letters as precedent for his 1597 Essays; Montaigne had Seneca in mind as well, most sweetly in his invocation of the apian metaphor for the act of creation:

The bees steal from this flower and that, but afterward turn their pilferings into honey, which is their own. … So the pupil will transform and fuse together the passages that he borrows from others, to make of them something entirely his own; that is to say, his own judgment. His education, his labor, and his study have no other aim but to form this.

That’s an apt description of how the “mellifluous & honey-tongued Shakespeare” worked, too.

You talk about how the fixation on Shakespeare as a solitary genius is overly romanticized and occludes us from the way he actually worked. Can you elaborate? Talk to us about Shakespeare’s real ingenuity and things even we mere mortals can apply in our own work and lives.

There’s no denying that Shakespeare had inordinate talent. But I think he was also inordinately lucky to work alongside so many other talented artists, actors and playwrights alike. They pushed him to outdo himself.

A big argument of the book is that thinking resembles a kind of craft practice, rather than some checklist of tasks.  Craft takes place in a collaborative environment where skill is honed, in conjunction with others. This space is characterized by gradations of expertise, as knowledge is continually being refined, enriched, or completely revised by experience. Total expertise is always deferred; as Hemingway put it, We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. But we can still practice, and we’re spurred on by emulating (and competing with) others, working in the company of adroit practitioners. In his treatise on archery, Elizabethan schoolmaster Roger Ascham lamented the decline in archery skills due to blind use — that is, practice without the expert guidance of knowledgeable instructors, leading to much illfavoredness and deformity.

My students’ papers often describe Shakespeare as a play-write: they hear the homophone for what they presume a playwright does: write. But it’s spelled w-r-i-g-h-t, from the Anglo-Saxon wryhta, glossed in 1567 by Laurence Nowell’s Saxon dictionary as “A woorkman, a wright, a common name of all artificers . . . a poet” — like a cartwright, who crafts carts, or a shipwright, who crafts ships. There were arkwrights, battle-wrights, boatwrights, bread-wrights, butterwrights, candlewrights, millwrights, wainwrights. A playwright crafts plays. They are wrought — designed, molded, fabricated, formed, contorted, sharpened, bent, formed, polished. And the more you work around other talented folk, the more mastery you can see modeled.

Is there anything Shakespeare provides someone like you—or anyone putting themselves out there and launching something—on the lead up to a scary, intimidating thing like a book release? How do you manage the process of publishing and marketing?

 Well, I thought I had a pretty good handle on it, until the world was upended these past months . . . Stoicism should have prepared me better!

I have to say that this is the most personal book I’ve written, grounded as it is in my teaching, my parenting, my life. Shakespeare strikes me as a far less personal writer; for a model of how to proceed, I guess I’d turn again to Montaigne:

If I had written to seek the world’s favor, I should have bedecked myself better, and should present myself in a studied posture. I want to be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice; for it is myself that I portray. My defects will here be read to the life, and also my natural form, as far as respect for the public has allowed. Had I been placed among those nations which are said to live still in the sweet freedom of nature’s first laws, I assure you I should very gladly have portrayed myself here entire and wholly naked.

Publishing anything always makes you feel exposed, if not naked. That’s understandable cause for trepidation, yet there’s something freeing about it as well.

At any rate, I’ve tried my best to “speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

Prospero’s line was, “Every third thought shall be my grave.” It’s remarkable how constant death is as a theme in both the Stoics and Shakespeare compared to today, when we just don’t talk about it. If we do talk about death, it’s mostly in how to avoid and prevent it. Which of these attitudes is better in your eyes? What does the approach of the Stoics and Shakespeare have to teach us?

As James Romm pointed out in his interview with you, Seneca often enjoins us to “rehearse death.” Take a look at his letter to Lucilius, 26.8:

Epicurus will oblige me, with the following saying: “Rehearse death,” or, the idea may come across to us rather more satisfactorily if put in this form: “It is a very good thing to familiarize oneself with death.” … “Rehearse death” – to say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom.  A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.

I think drama can help us “rehearse death.” It’s telling that recent popular accounts of how to face death have hinged on passages from Renaissance literature. Roy Scranton’s decidedly bleak Learning to Die in the Anthropocene meditates upon Montaigne’s “to philosophize is to learn how to die”; Paul Kalanithi’s memoir When Breath Becomes Air derives its very title from Fulke Greville, and meditates upon Thomas Browne, as Sherwin Nuland did before him. In his 2006 study Last Rights, Stephen P. Kiernan cites these elegiac lines from Cymbeline:

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, 

Nor the furious winter’s rages; 

Thou thy worldly task hast done, 

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages: 

Golden lads and girls all must, 

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust. 

Fear no more the frown o’ the great; 

Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke; 

Care no more to clothe and eat; 

To thee the reed is as the oak: 

The scepter, learning, physic, must 

All follow this, and come to dust. 

Katy Butler does the same her 2019 The Art of Dying Well, invoking the ars moriendi tradition to ground her analysis. The endurance of this tradition is remarkable — even Luther revised his own version of it in 1519.

Poignant as they are, these gestures are comparatively fleeting. As we face a global climate crisis and declining faith in institutions, can Shakespeare’s confrontations with death provide resources for our own quandaries? I think they can, through a renewed attention to the theatrical elements of the craft of dying: rehearse death.

Any good book recommendations? And any favorite Stoic or Shakespearean quotes you could leave us with?

I commend a pointed essay by the Canadian poet-philosopher Jan Zwicky called “A Ship from Delos.” You can find it in a slim volume she co-wrote with Robert Bringhurst, titled Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis. It speaks to me.

And I’ll leave you with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73, which speaks to our moment anew:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. 
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

***

Check out Scott’s new book How To Think Like Shakespeare: Lessons from a Renaissance Education!

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Finding Meaning In Our Suffering: What The Stoics Can Teach Us About Tragedy, Loss, and Pandemics https://dailystoic.com/finding-meaning/ Mon, 20 Apr 2020 16:40:25 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8408 The Stoics, like everyone who has walked this earth, were not unfamiliar with suffering. It was a fact of life in Rome just as it is a fact today. Marcus Aurelius’ reign, while he was loved by the people of Rome, was anything but easy. Wars, political rebellions, economic collapse, and pandemics all tested his …

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The Stoics, like everyone who has walked this earth, were not unfamiliar with suffering. It was a fact of life in Rome just as it is a fact today. Marcus Aurelius’ reign, while he was loved by the people of Rome, was anything but easy. Wars, political rebellions, economic collapse, and pandemics all tested his fortitude. To say that Epictetus struggled early on in life would be a preposterous understatement: the first three decades were spent in harsh, unrelenting slavery. He would bear the scars of it forever. 

Even the more contemporary Stoics, such as Viktor Frankl and James Stockdale were both forced to embody Stoicism when their lives took unexpected turns. They suffered just as you suffer. They struggled, just as you struggle now. 

Because life isn’t fair. Because it’s hard. Because bad things happen. 

But what was special about the Stoics is that it is in precisely these difficult times that they managed to shine. It was from this adversity that they derived great meaning. James Stockdale would say that in those seven years he spent in a horrible prisoner of war camp, “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Ok. Wow. So how do we do that? How do we bear the weight of suffering and use it to find meaning in our lives? With those questions in mind, here are four Stoic strategies for finding meaning in times of suffering. 

Put Your Energy Towards Helping Others

“if wisdom were given me under the express condition that it must be kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is pleasant to possess, without friends to share it.” Epictetus

It’s important to understand that the Stoics weren’t better coaches than they were players—they lived the philosophy they preached. Epictetus, who emphasized understanding the difference between what we can and can’t control, had no choice but to accept the uncontrollable. Born into slavery, Epictetus had no choice over his circumstances. Even his name, Epíktitos, is greek for “acquired”. He would endure a slave’s life for most of his formative years, before being freed by his master, who was a secretary to Emperor Nero. Despite the harsh conditions of his upbringing, Epictetus continued to study philosophy. He would become a master of Stoic thought, expanding his ideas far and wide until his name became synonymous with the philosophy itself. Epictetus took the adversity fate handed him and transformed it into an opportunity to help others. He turned his trials into triumph. This very idea is the foundation of Stoic thought and, of course, the inspiration for The Obstacle Is The Way

Crises cause us to think only of ourselves—how we’re affected, what we will do to survive. But it’s important to remember that the entire world is experiencing the same thing. In Book Six of Meditations, Marcus gives himself (and us) a command to keep an important idea in mind. “Meditate often,” he writes, “on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” He is speaking of the Stoic concept of Sympatheia, the idea that “all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other.” The same rules still apply in trying to navigate the unknown terrain of COVID-19. During this time, as Marcus suggests, we ought to continue this affinity for one another. We have to help each other and be kind to one another. When everything feels like it’s falling apart, Sympatheia will provide us with meaning. 

For so many, the pandemic we face feels hopeless. But when we feel anxious about the rising number of cases around the globe, when we feel stir crazy and long to see our friends and family again, we must refocus our energy to helping others. Remember that no matter how dire the situation, no matter how seemingly futile it feels to remain optimistic and kind, we must always remember our interconnectedness and duty we owe to others. In prioritizing the way we treat those who are going through the same thing, we provide ourselves with the meaning necessary to keep pushing on. 

Be Grateful For What You Have Left

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Viktor Frankl

It’s tragic that so many of us fail to fully recognize the value of something until it is no longer in our possession. We take for granted that which we presently have, and constantly desire that which we do not. Even Viktor Frankl, who spent three years witnessing horrible atrocities at Auschwitz and Dachau, acknowledged that he too, took for granted the little things. In tough times, it’s the little things that give us the meaning necessary to keep going.

There’s an iconic scene in Man’s Search For Meaning where Frankl is engaged in hard labor by a railroad. Thick snow is pounding the prisoners who are already under-clothed, malnourished and utterly exhausted. Hours and hours go by, as Nazi officers beat several prisoners for working too slowly, including Frankl. In this moment of extreme suffering, Frankl begins to daydream about his wife. It wasn’t major moments in their relationship he thought of, though. It was the little things: her smile, the way her hair fell to her shoulders, her laugh. All of these traits, while they were appreciated and admired in those moments, provided Frankl with the will to continue living despite his desolation. 

In times of suffering, we’re all guilty of focusing more on what we lack rather than what we already have. We complain instead of feeling gratitude for the things we have not yet lost. Marcus Aurelius also knew the danger of complaining, when we wrote “How does it help… to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” The tendency to take things for granted doesn’t mean that we’re bad people, but this perspective certainly doesn’t serve us well amidst a global pandemic. Like Frankl found meaning in the memory of his wife, you have to find meaning in every moment as well. Each day that you wake up in quarantine, be grateful for your health. Be grateful for the opportunity to spend more time with your family, as thousands of people have already lost their loved ones to the virus. See each day as a gift, and meaning will ensue. 

Look For Beauty Everywhere

“We should remember that even Nature’s inadvertence has its own charm, its own attractiveness. The way loaves of bread split open on top in the oven; the ridges are just by-products of the baking, and yet pleasing, somehow: they rouse our appetite without our knowing why. Or how ripe figs begin to burst. And olives on the point of falling: the shadow of decay gives them a peculiar beauty” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

In the face of a virus like COVID-19, which is rapidly spreading and carries with it severe economic consequences, it’s easy to think that’s all there is—that nothing good is happening. But the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Despite the widespread panic and growing case numbers, there’s still plenty of good going on. Fortune 500 companies are refocusing their factories to manufacture personal protective gear for frontline responders. Air pollution is at an all-time low, and the sky has never looked this serene and clear. Even in this nightmare of a health crisis, there is still beauty to be seen

One of the greatest examples of finding beauty despite one’s circumstances comes from legendary American Businessman and inventor Thomas Edison. The story goes that Edison, aged sixty-seven at the time, was about to eat dinner when a man rushed to his home. The man would inform Edison that there was a large fire burning at Edison’s factory. Edison arrived at his factory accompanied by his son. He watched as, what many would categorize as his life’s work, burn to ashes before his very eyes. One would assume that Edison would break from an incident like this. Most people would—but not him. How did Edison respond? By turning to his son, and uttering “Go and get your mother and all of her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.” It wasn’t any kind of delusion or shock that caused Edison to react so calmly. It was his well-trained perception, his ability to see opportunity through the flames.  

Marcus Aurelius too was challenged with finding beauty in the darkest places. On the front lines of the war campaign in Germania, Marcus managed to find beauty in the flecks of foam on a boar’s mouth, in the brow of a lion, and in the way a ripe olive falls to the ground. With time and what we assume to be hours and hours of reflection in the journal we now call Meditations, Marcus developed his perspective enough to see through the nightmare around him, to concentrate on peace when everyone else saw chaos. 

Everyone holds this same power. Everyone can find beauty and meaning in life at any given moment. 

Make Your Ancestors Proud

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” — Greek Proverb

Think about the life your parents have lived thus far. Think about the trials and tribulations they’ve overcome—the suffering they’ve endured. Now think about your grandparents. Go as far back in your family tree as memory or research will allow. If you keep going, you’ll notice that suffering does not skip a generation like a genetic disease. It is ever-present for all who have lived and are living currently. 

We ought to keep in mind the wise words of philosopher George Santayana, that those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. While the quote is often used to speak about history in general, it is just as applicable to the modern Stoic. If we fail to learn from our ancestors and those who came before us, like Marcus, Epictetus, Seneca, and the rest…we’re doing them a disservice. We’re not making them proud in the same way that their discoveries make us proud today. 

Our goal during the pandemic, and for the remainder of our lives should be to plant trees for those who will come after us, and make the world a little bit better off than the way we found it. 

The next time you feel discouraged by the condition of suffering, remember to put your energy towards helping others. Remember to be grateful for what you have. Remember to see the beauty in everything. Most of all, remember to make your ancestors proud. It was they, who overcame great obstacles and found meaning in the suffering. 

And now, so can you. 

***

Related:

A Crisis Can Make You Better. But Only If You Have This Mindset

When the System Breaks Down, Leaders Stand Up

Remember: You Don’t Control What Happens, You Control How You Respond

Daily Stoic Podcast: Ryan Holiday & Tim Ferriss Discuss “Alive Time vs Dead Time”

Ask Daily Stoic: Ryan and John Brownstein Discuss the Science Behind the Pandemic

Understanding And Responding To Natural Catastrophe: An Interview With Anthony Long

 

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Who Is Gaius Rubellius Plautus? An Introduction To Nero’s Rival https://dailystoic.com/who-is-gaius-rubellius-plautus-an-introduction-to-neros-rival/ Fri, 17 Apr 2020 21:49:48 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8379 Gaius Rubellius Plautus was a Roman noble, Stoic philosopher, and best known for being the rival of the Roman Emperor Nero. Besides being a potential threat to Nero’s reign due to his parentage, he also associated with The Stoic Opposition, a group that opposed the rule of a few emperors in the 1st century AD.  …

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Gaius Rubellius Plautus was a Roman noble, Stoic philosopher, and best known for being the rival of the Roman Emperor Nero. Besides being a potential threat to Nero’s reign due to his parentage, he also associated with The Stoic Opposition, a group that opposed the rule of a few emperors in the 1st century AD. 

He was born in 33 AD and executed by Nero in 62 AD. His family was executed a few years later, as part of Nero’s reign of terror. 

Family 

Gaius Rubellius Plautus was born into nobility and into a position where his existence alone stood to threaten Nero. His father’s side was of relative unimportance compared to his mother’s—his father was the first of his family to join the Senate, but had not descended from anyone of note, while his mother, Julia, was the granddaughter of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Julia was also related to other emperors through blood. Through Julia, Plautus was also related to the Julio-Claudian dynasty (which was founded by Augustus and lasted through Nero’s reign).

As a result of their parentage, Julia and Plautus had targets on their backs. Prior to Nero,  Empress Messalina (wife of Emperor Claudius) had plans for her son ascending to the throne—she feared both Nero and Plautus ascending and wanted her son to be emperor. 

She tried sabotaging both, though Nero of course would become Emperor. In Plautus’s case, Messalina accused his mother, Julia, of incest and immorality and as a result, Messalina’s husband Claudius had her executed. Julia’s reputation was that she was a virtuous woman, and these accusations were likely unfounded. Furthermore, Messalina became known for lying and plotting to keep the emperorship secure for her own designs. Eventually Messalina herself was executed, and her interference stopped, but it was far too late to spare Julia. 

We will go into Nero and his ilk’s transgressions against Plautus in a later section. 

Plautus married Antista Pollitta, whose father was a senator and colleague of Nero. He had children, whose names are unknown. He had a reputation for being a good father and husband. Unfortunately, a few years after Plautus was executed, Nero would have his wife and children executed as well, ending Plautus’s familial legacy. 

Philosophy

Rubellius Plautus was associated with a specific group of Stoics called The Stoic Opposition. They were philosophers that fought against the tyrannical power of emperors in the first century AD, specifically opposing Nero, then Vespasian, then Domitian. Rubellius Plautus only lived during Nero’s reign, as Nero would later order him killed. 

The Stoic Opposition essentially wanted to move away from random utilization of power and toward philosophical rule, which they would want to adhere to the concepts of Stoicism (i.e. pursuit of virtue such as wisdom and pursuing the highest good). Their public opposition of these rulers meant that Stoicism was considered politically controversial, and its followers, these philosophers specifically, were persecuted. Its most prominent member was Thraesa Paetus, who Nero would also eventually have killed. As for Rubellius Plautus, he had “the honor” of being the first member of The Stoic Opposition that Nero executed. 

We can gather that Plautus was a Stoic through third party accounts. Presumably in a letter to Nero, Tigellus, one of Nero’s guard and known for his cruelty, said, “Plautus again, with his great wealth, does not so much as affect a love of repose, but he flaunts before us his imitations of the old Romans, and assumes the self-consciousness of the Stoics along with a philosophy, which makes men restless, and eager for a busy life.” There are other accounts that support this claim.

Tacitus does write about Plautus in The Annals of Imperial Rome, but unfortunately there’s not much else to glean about Rubellius Plautus’s philosophy specifically. He has no written works (that have survived anyway), and what’s written about him does not highlight any unusual beliefs that break away from Stoicism or contribute something new to it. However, he was reviled by Nero, and their relation to history leaves us interesting dynamics to explore. 

Relationship with Nero

Rubellius Plautus was a distant cousin of Emperor Nero. Due to his parentage and membership of The Stoic Opposition, he was considered to be a possible rival to Nero’s throne. Nero didn’t act on the rumors of rivalry immediately, but grew increasingly suspicious of him over time. In 60 AD, a comet streaked through the sky, and some people took this as a sign that Nero’s reign would end and Plautus would replace him. These rumors reached Nero, and led to him exiling Plautus to Asia Minor, along with his family. Musonisus Rufus, a prominent Stoic philosopher and another member of The Stoic Opposition, would join him. 

Two years into Rubellius Plautus’s exile, Tigellinus wrote again of Plautus to Nero, saying Plautus “had the arrogance of the Stoics, who breed sedition and intrigue.” It’s likely that Tigellinus stoked Nero’s fears of being usurped and turned him against more people than Nero otherwise might have soured against. Tigellinus became more powerful the more paranoid Nero became, so it benefitted him to continue stirring up that paranoia.   

Beyond Tigellinus’s whispers, Nero also heard that Plautus was potentially plotting a rebellion with the general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. Nero, who had become more and more unstable and violent, ordered a centurion to assassinate Plautus in response. 

It seems Plautus may have had some prior knowledge of Nero’s intent to have him killed, but Musonius told him to remain and face death rather than run away. Likely from a combination of courage and a hope that his family would be left alone if he did not resist, he did stay and face death, and was killed by the centurion during his daily routine exercise in 62 AD.   

Plautus’s head was brought to Nero, who then ridiculed the appearance of Plautus’s apparently long and frightening nose. In 66 AD, Nero would execute Platus’s wife, children, and father-in-law. Plautus and his family were well-regarded, so their deaths were met with distress. 

Sadly, Plautus was only one of Nero’s early victims. Nero’s reign of terror would continue, and other Stoics, such as Seneca, would be subjected to his brutality and orders of death. 

2 Ways to Live Like Gaius Rubellius Plautus

Stand Up for Your Principles

Gaius Rubellius Plautus was born with a target on his back. He had parentage that made him a threat in the eyes of several people vying for or protecting their status (or their family’s status) in relation to the position of emperor. In terms of survivorship, it might have been smart for Plautus to retreat into the background, live a quiet life, and if not, always speak out in favor of Nero. Perhaps he would have been spared if he had never questioned Nero and his tactics.

But Plautus did no such thing. In fact, he fought for his Stoic beliefs, joined The Stoic Opposition, and loudly critiqued Nero’s heinous rule. Even if he had not had the parentage he did, his beliefs and actions would have painted him as a target for Nero. But his beliefs were important to him, and so he did not shy away from what he considered his moral duty. 

How can you apply this to your modern life? Stand up for your principles even if you might receive scrutiny or scorn. Are your relatives making bigoted remarks? Rather than keep quiet to “keep the peace” remind yourself that they’re the ones not keeping the peace by making such remarks in the first place. Your response shouldn’t be “let’s not talk politics” or to laugh uncomfortably, or to stay silent. Your response should be in line with what you believe—bigotry is wrong. Call it out when you see it, even if it’s easier to keep your head down. The stakes are much lower in these types of scenarios versus what the Stoics faced—show some backbone.   

Death Comes For Us All…Face it with Courage

Plautus knew death was literally coming for him—an agent of Nero’s was fast approaching to find and kill him in his exile. But he didn’t flee. He knew his time was coming. Fleeing would have been standing down, and likely fruitless anyway—he did not want a life running and hiding after he had stood up for his principles before. Furthermore, he likely thought that his family would be spared (though they unfortunately were not) if he acquiesced. Protecting others and his own courage were important to him, so he remained in dignity.  

Memento mori—remember that you will die—is considered an important piece of Stoic philosophy. It helps Stoics live life to the fullest, to be virtuous and our best selves because death waits for no one. Some people take this and run with it in the wrong direction—they remember they will die and stew in it. Constant anxiety, trying to extend their lives at the cost of living truly. 

We’re not suggesting not moving out of the way of an oncoming car or awaiting an assassin’s certain approach to make a point, but there’s something to Plautus’s decision we can learn from. To not live in fear of death, to not give up your dignity to try to hang on to one more day that you’re not guaranteed. Live by your morality.

An example of living this in more recent times is James Stockdale, a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He chose to endure harsh imprisonment and possible death rather than give in to his captors. He talks about it in his book, Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, which is a harrowing and inspiring read. Try to take these lessons from people like Plautus and Stockdale. Don’t let the fact that death is coming for you, for us all, get you anxious and give up what you believe in with only the hope that you’ll live another day. 

Gaius Rubellius Plautus is often overlooked in the chronicles of history. But his rivalry with Nero, his beliefs, his membership in the Stoic Opposition, and his actions, are worth looking at and taking into consideration when we think about how we want to lead our own lives.

———

Meet The Stoics:

Who Is Marcus Aurelius? Getting To Know The Roman Emperor

Who Is Seneca? Inside The Mind of The World’s Most Interesting Stoic

Who Is Epictetus? From Slave To World’s Most Sought After Philosopher

Who Is Cleanthes? Successor to Zeno & Second Head of the Stoic School

Who Is Cato? Roman Senator. Mortal Enemy of Julius Caesar.

Who Is Zeno? An Introduction to the Founder of Stoicism

Who Is Cicero? Getting To Know Rome’s Greatest Politician

Who Is Posidonius? The Most Academic Stoic

Who Was Panaetius? Spreading Stoicism from Greece to Rome

Who Is Paconius Agrippinus? An Introduction To The Red Thread Contrarian

Who Is Porcia Cato? An Introduction To The Stoic Superwoman

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Daily Stoic Podcast: Ryan Holiday & Tim Ferriss Discuss “Alive Time vs Dead Time” https://dailystoic.com/saturday-april-11-tim-ferriss/ Fri, 10 Apr 2020 18:29:31 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8338 The post Daily Stoic Podcast: Ryan Holiday & Tim Ferriss Discuss “Alive Time vs Dead Time” appeared first on Daily Stoic.

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Nonconformity, Self-Reliance, And Starting Over: An Interview With Bestselling Author Chris Guillebeau https://dailystoic.com/chris-guillebeau-interview/ Tue, 07 Apr 2020 17:20:36 +0000 https://dailystoic.com/?p=8305 Epictetus tells us about how the Stoic Agrippinus was like a red thread, the piece of fabric that stands out. People often asked Agrippinus why he couldn’t just be “normal,” why he couldn’t just be like everyone else. “And if I do that,” Agrippinus liked to answer, “How shall I any longer be the red?” …

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Epictetus tells us about how the Stoic Agrippinus was like a red thread, the piece of fabric that stands out. People often asked Agrippinus why he couldn’t just be “normal,” why he couldn’t just be like everyone else. “And if I do that,” Agrippinus liked to answer, “How shall I any longer be the red?” One biographer tells us about how Marcus never stopped reading, studying, or attending lectures even though “others continued to sneer at him for his commitment to philosophy.” In short: the Stoics were different. They had the courage to be their true, authentic, selves. Cassius Dio points out that Marcus had no interest in doing anything for the sake of posturing, “Nothing could force him to do anything alien to his own character.” 

Chris Guillebeau—the New York Times bestselling author of The $100 Startup, Side Hustle, and The Art of Nonconformity—has helped millions of people live authentic, self-reliant, meaningful lives. His new book The Money Treehis first work of fiction—is the story of overcoming significant struggle and uncertainty and emerging stronger. After our recent podcast interview with Chris, we were eager to learn more from Chris during these uncertain times. Below, Chris tells us more about how he’s handled launching his new book during a pandemic, what it means to live meaningfully and why spreading that message is so important to him, what advice he has for those facing the challenge of starting over, and more. Please enjoy this interview with Chris Guillebeau!

You were about a month out from the launch of your new book The Money Tree and a 40-city international tour when the pandemic brought the globe more or less to a halt. It’s the core Stoic teaching: we don’t control the world around us, we only control how we respond. Talk to us about how you’ve handled all this.

Well, first, I’ve thought a fair amount about that core teaching. It aligns well with some of the other things I’ve been learning or working through recently, apart from my vocation as an author.

But second, there’s a logical extension to it: sure, we don’t control the world, but we do have some autonomy over our daily decisions.

Practically speaking, I decided to take on a new challenge: instead of visiting 40 cities, which obviously requires a lot of time spent on transit, back-and-forth, setup and take-down at the events, etc. —I’ll spend the same amount of time speaking to people from afar, wherever they are and in whatever mediums I can use.

It’s been an interesting reframing for me, because I’ve become somewhat used to the process involved with going everywhere, city by city, person by person. For a long time, I identified with that model, but maybe I was also getting too comfortable with it.

So I’m learning new skills and stretching myself a bit through all of this along with everyone else, which of course is ultimately good for me.

Can you tell us more about The Money Tree? It’s a genre you’ve never written in before. What were some of your goals with this project?

In terms of the big picture, The Money Tree is the story of becoming self-reliant through financial independence. Practically speaking, it’s about using creative thinking and application to get out of debt and reduce the impact that external factors (your boss, the economy, etc.) can have on you.

One of my goals is to reach people who wouldn’t read Side Hustle or one of my other how-to books. I wrote the book in a way that’s easily readable and (hopefully) entertaining, so that a reader can experience it without necessarily wanting to learn about starting a business. It’s not meant to be a Trojan horse, per se, but I did try to create some layers to where different readers will take away different lessons.

Ultimately, I hope that people will read it and feel inspired to advance their own story by overcoming a significant struggle, particularly debt and the sense of desperation that can accompany it.

At the core of everything you do—your blog, your books, your podcast, your talks, your summit—is inspiring others to live authentic, self-reliant, meaningful lives. Can you talk about what it means to live meaningfully and why spreading that message is so important to you? How did you get into this focus area?

Thank you for noticing that.

One of the things I believe is that if you don’t make choices for yourself, someone else will come along and make choices for you. So for me, at some point long ago I identified nonconformity as a value I wanted to live by. I’m not entirely sure of the genesis of this; I think it was a combination of formative moments and experience.

Simply noticing things as you go along and being willing to ask “Why?” can produce a lot of insight, both into human behavior as well as opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures, side hustles, etc.

One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Nothing pains some people so much as having to think.” If you embrace thinking and questioning—as I’m sure most Daily Stoic readers do—you are well positioned to thrive in a time of chaos and disorder.

You’ve helped millions of people who want to reinvent themselves and their careers. There are now millions of people who are going to need to do that. What advice can you share with readers who are facing the challenge of starting over?

Millions of people may have read my books—or at least purchased them—but for whatever they’ve done to reinvent themselves, the credit goes to them. I hope to provide tools, examples, stories, and resources … but again, the act of doing the work is far more important.

So let’s focus on the other part of the question. For everyone facing the challenge of starting over—well, first of all, congratulations on reaching such a remarkable opportunity. We live in interesting times!

Starting over means you have the chance to build what you really want. Imagine building a sand castle, and then seeing it destroyed by a freak tidal wave. You’re disappointed, right? But then you start over, and maybe the new one is better. It doesn’t take as long to build, and you make improvements as you go based on the sand castle-building skills you’ve acquired.

Or maybe you just realize that you’re tired of building sand castles, so you leave to do something else. If the tidal wave hadn’t shown up, you’d still be stuck doing something you no longer enjoyed. On the other side of this disordered state we’re all in now, I think we’ll see a number of tremendous shifts and positive changes from so many people.

Something we’ve been talking about here is how we always have a choice between alive time and dead time, whether what we face is an obstacle or an opportunity. Your message has been similar. Can you talk about that and how you’ve been trying to make the most out of these uncertain times?

Yes, that’s a wonderful way to put it (alive time and dead time).

Whenever there is progress, some people and industries are harmed. So the same must be true for disorder: even though we tend to focus on the negative effects (which, to be clear, are not small in the case of the pandemic we’re experiencing), when some groups are harmed, others advance.

This is good to think about in terms of building economic security for yourself. Who are the “winners” during this time? It’s not just companies like Zoom and Purell. People all over the world are desperately seeking connection and community. What can you do to solve one small part of the problem?

For me I’m using some of the time to reflect on the timeless wisdom of “everything is temporary.” In many ways, we won’t go back to “the way things were” even when this is over—so what kind of world do we want to build? How will I be part of that—and how will you?

Could you leave the Daily Stoic community with a final piece of advice? It could be a question to journal on, a philosophical practice to try, or just something to think about as they go about their day.

For as long as I can remember, my core belief and life philosophy has been: You don’t have to live your life the way others expect.

I probably don’t have to explain this to Daily Stoic readers because they are smart, but just to cover the bases, I should note that this doesn’t mean you go around acting like an asshole and being selfish all the time. The point is that you can do good things for yourself and for others at the same time. It’s not a dichotomy; in fact they are connected.

My quest to go to every country in the world might be a good example. Taken by itself, it was primarily an individual goal. I wasn’t raising money for charity. I wasn’t trying to be the first, the fastest, the youngest, or whatever. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

In other words, no one really benefitted from that except me—which is fine! But when I started writing about it, somewhere around halfway through the journey, I discovered that a lot of other people ended up connecting with the story and starting their own quests and projects, sometimes leading to incredible and unpredictable results.

So back to the Daily Stoic readers: readers, you don’t have to live your life the way others expect. There is another way!

The post Nonconformity, Self-Reliance, And Starting Over: An Interview With Bestselling Author Chris Guillebeau appeared first on Daily Stoic.

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