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This Is What Progress Looks Like

Daily Stoic Emails

How do you know you’re making progress in this philosophy? It’s a question that every person has struggled with at some point in their practice, including Seneca. When he was writing his famous letters, he meditated on this theme. What does getting better look like? How do you know any of this is working?

Quoting one of his favorite philosophers, Hecato, Seneca comes up with a pretty good metric:

“What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself.”

What a wonderful way of putting it. Not, “I am richer.” Not, “I am more famous.” Not even, “I sleep more soundly” or “I am handling a crisis well.” Sure those things are nice, and possibly even important. But to the Stoics, the point of this work was something simpler and more earnest: to be comfortable in your own skin; to be enough; to be a good friend to yourself.

A person who is a friend to themselves, Seneca wrote, is an aid to all mankind. They are kind. They are calm. They have empathy—for themselves and for others. They aren’t desperate. They can quietly spend time alone. They don’t need to pull others down to lift themselves up. They can stand on shoulders of giants, as Isaac Newton famously said in 1675, instead of stepping on their necks to secure advantage.

Use that as your rubric. Is the voice in your head getting nicer? Are you more still? Are you practicing good self-care? That’s what progress looks like. That’s what you deserve as a human being—and as a friend.