Stoicism, a philosophy with roots in ancient Greece and Rome, is no stranger to the modern world. It’s been receiving a resurgence of interest in recent years due to its practical applications in improving mental well-being and resilience.
Here are ten of the most effective Stoic exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine.
1. Morning Preparation
Imagine you have a high-pressure presentation at work. During your morning routine, visualize presenting your ideas clearly and handling potential challenging questions with grace and confidence.
Marcus Aurelius, a notable Stoic philosopher, was known for starting his day with a reflection on the challenges he might face. Every morning, visualize the day ahead and mentally prepare for potential difficulties.
This exercise aids in transforming your reaction to challenging situations, bringing calm and equanimity.
2. Negative Visualization
Think about your smartphone, something most of us use daily. Visualize how your day would go if you lost it. The exercise might make you appreciate its utility and cultivate mindfulness about its importance in your everyday life.
The Stoics encourage us to periodically visualize the loss of things we value. This exercise isn’t meant to create pessimism but rather to cultivate gratitude and diminish the impact of potential losses.
For instance, ponder on the impermanence of relationships, wealth, or health, and you’ll start to appreciate them more in the present.
3. View from Above
Caught in a traffic jam, instead of growing frustrated, imagine observing the city from a bird’s-eye view, where the cars are mere dots. This can help you realize that your situation is a small part of a bigger picture.
In order to gain perspective on our lives, Stoics recommend practicing the ‘View from Above.’
This involves picturing the world from a broader perspective, such as from space, to realize our insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe. This can help alleviate stress and anxiety related to our individual problems.
4. Dichotomy of Control
Imagine you’re worried about a loved one’s health. Write down your concerns and distinguish between what is in your control (encouraging them to seek medical advice) and what isn’t (their actual health status).
Epictetus, another significant Stoic philosopher, emphasized the importance of distinguishing between what is within our control and what isn’t.
Write down your worries and categorize them into ‘controllable’ and ‘uncontrollable.’ By focusing only on what you can control, you’ll reduce unnecessary stress and enhance your effectiveness.
Reflect on a recent argument you had. Write about it, focusing on your emotions, your reaction, and how Stoic principles could have helped manage the situation better.
Marcus Aurelius’s ‘Meditations’, one of the key texts in Stoicism, was essentially his journal.
Journaling encourages reflection, and self-awareness.
6. Practicing Discomfort
Instead of using a car or public transport, choose to walk or cycle to work once a week. This slight discomfort can make you appreciate your regular transportation more.
To build resilience and appreciation, the Stoics suggested we occasionally introduce voluntary discomfort into our lives. This could be as simple as taking a cold shower or skipping a meal.
By doing so, you train yourself to remain unfazed by discomfort and appreciate the comfort you normally enjoy.
7. Premeditatio Malorum (Premeditation of Evils)
Before a job interview, visualize the interview going poorly. This prepares you to handle difficult questions and reduces anxiety by equipping you with a mental strategy to cope with potential failure.
This exercise involves visualizing adverse scenarios to prepare and lessen their impact.
For example, rehearse a difficult conversation in your mind before it takes place. This way, you are mentally equipped to handle the situation with composure.
8. Mindful Moment
During a hectic day at work, take a five-minute break to focus on your breath and your surroundings. This helps you reconnect with the present moment and regain focus.
Stoicism shares common ground with mindfulness, emphasizing the importance of being present.
Throughout the day, pause, take deep breaths, and connect with the present moment. This practice can help reduce stress and promote mental clarity.
9. Amor Fati (Love of Fate)
When you’re stuck in bad weather, instead of complaining, accept it as an opportunity to spend more time indoors working on your hobbies or cleaning your home.
Amor Fati is about embracing everything that happens in life, viewing all experiences as necessary.
To practice this, when something undesirable occurs, instead of wishing it away, accept it and try to see it as an opportunity for growth.
10. Memento Mori (Remember Death)
If you find yourself procrastinating on your dreams, remind yourself of the inevitability of death. This awareness can help you prioritize your time more effectively, motivating you to pursue what truly matters.
Although it might sound morbid, reflecting on death can be empowering. It reminds us of the inevitability of death and the importance of living our lives fully in the present.
An exercise could be to contemplate a simple phrase like, “You could leave life right now,” as Marcus Aurelius wrote in his Meditations.
The exercises outlined above serve as gateways to cultivating a Stoic mindset, fostering resilience, peace, and a balanced perspective towards life’s challenges.
By consistently practicing these exercises, you can train your mind to respond instead of reacting, to embrace instead of resisting, and to find tranquility amidst chaos.
Remember, Stoicism isn’t about eliminating emotions but about understanding and managing them effectively.
Begin incorporating these practices into your daily routine, and you might just find yourself feeling more grounded, calm, and prepared for whatever life throws your way.
After all, as the ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca stated, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”