2018 is underway and many of you are joining us on this journey of reading and journaling about Stoicism every day (via The Daily Stoic and The Daily Stoic Journal). Every morning and every night, we are sitting down and doing our writing and thinking. But about what? Obviously there are the daily prompts, but there are also going to be some big themes to meditate on this year. 12 essential themes to be exact.
Whether you journal along with us or not, each one is worth keeping top of mind. You can cycle through them monthly, or daily—a 30 day challenge on each or one day challenges to cycle through every 12 days. Or cycle through hourly, hitting each theme twice per day. There are many ways to do it, but we want you to keep these ideas top of mind, to keep these thoughts at hand, as Epictetus said, “write them, read them aloud, talk to yourself and others about them.”
Clarity — Remember, the most important task is to separate the things that are in your control from those that are not in your control. To get real clarity about what to focus on in life. As Seneca put it, “It’s not activity that disrupts people, but false conceptions of things that drive them mad.”
Equanimity — To the Stoics, the passions were the source of suffering. “A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent,” Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, “and such a person has strength, courage and endurance—unlike the angry and the complaining.” Calmness is strength.
Awareness — Accurate self-assessment is essential. Know thyself, was the dictum from the Oracle at Delphi. Knowing your strengths is just as important as knowledge of your weakness, and ignorance of either is ego (as we show here). As Zeno put it, “nothing is more hostile to a firm grasp on knowledge than self-deception.”
Unbiased Thought — “Objective judgement, now at this very moment,” was Marcus’s command to himself. Our life is colored by our thoughts, the Stoics said, and so to be driven by this bias or that bias—this delusion or that false impression—is to send your whole existence off-kilter.
Right Action — It’s not just about clear thoughts, but clear thoughts that lead to clear and right action. “First, tell yourself what kind of person you want to be,” Epictetus said, “then do what you have to do.” Emphasis on the do. Remember Marcus: “Don’t talk about what a good man is like. Be one.” This philosophy is for life, not for the ethereal world.
Problem Solving — Are you vexed by daily obstacles or do you throw yourself into solving them? “This is what we’re here for,” Seneca said. No one said life was easy. No one said it would be fair. Let’s make progress where we can.
Duty — “Whatever anyone does or says,” Marcus wrote, “I’m bound to the good…Whatever anyone does or says, I must be what I am and show my true colors.” He was talking about duty. Duty to his country, to his family, to humankind, to his talents, to the philosophy he had learned. Are you doing yours?
Pragmatism — A Stoic is an idealist…but they are also imminently practical. If the food is bitter, Marcus wrote, toss it out. If there are brambles in the path, go around. Don’t expect perfection. Be ready to be flexible and creative. Life demands it.
Resiliency — Do you want to count on good luck or be prepared for anything that happens? The Stoics had an attitude of “Let come what may” because they had cultivated inner-strength and resilience. Make sure you’ve done your training.
Kindness — Be hard on yourself, and understanding of others. See every person you meet, as Seneca tried to do, as an opportunity for kindness and compassion. Nothing can stop you from being virtuous, from being good. That’s on you.
Amor Fati — Don’t just accept what happens, love it. Because it’s for the best. Because you will make it for the best. A Stoic embraces everything with a smile. Every obstacle is fuel for their fire, to borrow Marcus’s metaphor. (And here’s an awesome totem you can carry to remind you of that).
Memento Mori — We’re strong but we’re not invincible. We were born mortal and nothing can change that. So let us, as Seneca said, “prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life.” Let us put nothing off, let us live each moment fully. (And here’s an awesome totem you can carry to remind you of that).
Those are our twelve themes, for the day, for the year, for life. It’s up to you how you want to follow them. Whether it’s in book form, in this email, or in our journal or hopefully in all three! In any case, let these principles guide you. They are tried and tested over more than two thousand years, by some of the most courageous and impressive people who ever walked this planet. Let them lead you. Let them inspire you.
Good luck this year!