Stoic Unflappability is Something You Can Learn

Cato was the scion of one of Rome’s most distinguished political families. His father, Cato the Elder, was a giant in Rome’s history. In other words, Cato was a member of the aristocracy—and came from enough wealth that he could’ve lived his life in splendor and opulence.

And yet, he chose to sleep next to his troops on the ground. In the city, he would often walk around without shoes or head covering—in rain, snow, heat, and all else.

Why?

Because Cato was training himself. The individual acts didn’t matter; he could’ve just as easily slept in a comfortable tent by himself, while his men slept on the ground. What mattered was that he was purposefully putting himself in positions of difficulty with a relatively low cost—so that when things had a higher cost, he had primed himself. If he could learn to endure the small things, he could endure the big ones.

We are, more than ever, able to wrap ourselves in comfort whenever we’d like. Instead of standing on a subway car, we can sit; we can eat whatever we’d like, whenever we’d like. We can give ourselves over to all kinds of excesses.

But we can also choose differently. We can choose to mold our characters, to endure hardship, to eat less than our fill, to invite ridicule. All of these simple acts can, over time, build a character with depth and firmness. The kind of character that can endure the biggest things, because it has prepared itself with a series of smaller tests.