With the increasing swirl of interest around mindfulness, resilience and innovation we can’t forget that there are many who have trodden this path before us with important lessons we can borrow.
Stoicism is the branch of ancient western philosophy that focuses on mindfulness, resilience, creativity and more, all of which allows us to flourish and live the good life, achieving eudemonia (translated from Greek as happiness, or human flourishing).
The principles have had a profound influence on Western thought, and compared to other schools of philosophy often consumed by intellectual enterprise and endless debate it’s bracingly practical and straightforward.
Whilst stoicism hasn’t been popular for a while it’s making a comeback with a strong international following.
Whilst it’s seen by some as a western form of Buddhism, helping to overcome destructive emotions, it actually originated in the Greco-Roman Empire.
It had three principle leaders: Marcus Aurelius, who wrote daily about restraint, compassion and humility; Epictetus who overcame the horrors of slavery to go on to found his own School; and Seneca, who, facing a demand for his suicide from his emperor Nero, thought only of comforting his wife and friends.
And at its core are three simple lessons.
How unpredictable the world is and how brief life is.
How to be steadfast, strong, and in control of yourself.
That dissatisfaction comes from impulsive reflexes rather than logic.
Amongst current leaders President Barack Obama is often seen to demonstrate qualities of stoicism through his calm and collected demeanor, which some say echoes the political style of well-known stoic, Cato the Younger.
Stoicism transforms negative emotions into a sense of perspective and prepares you to have the right state of mind. At its heart it’s about controlling things which are in your power to control and ditching the rest.
It requires being mindful, awareness and control, rather than being lost to emotion and random thought processes. Stoic exercises such as “practicing” misfortune and poverty help teach us that the worst case scenario is not in fact, the worst. And it’s great for business.
Stoic principles can build the resilience and state of mind required to rebound from knockbacks, so important in our new world of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Nassim Taleb in his book The Black Swan says:
“My idea of the modern stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.”