What you will learn from reading The Little Book of Stoicism
– How to make productive decisions and not let emotions overwhelm you.
– How to take better control of your life and not let external circumstances bring you down.
– The importance of trying your best in any given moment.
The Little Book of Stoicism Book Summary:
Unlike your oven, life doesn’t come with a manual, however, Stoicism is the closest thing to it. Stoicism is the study of life and like anything, to become good at something you need to study/ practice it.
The Little Book of Stoicism is the perfect book to get into philosophy. Jonas breaks down the core fundamentals of Stoicism and then goes on to provide numerous principles that you can practice. It’s a very easy read and provides plenty of gems. Would highly recommend!
Philosophy is the science of how to live. It gives you control over yourself and your emotions so that you aren’t lead astray all the time.
Stoicism is not about controlling the external environment, it’s about adapting to it and taking it in to make the most of it.
We cannot control the outside world. Therefore we need to make the most of what we can control… ourselves.
It’s the equivalent of trying to control the rain, its impossible, but just because it rains doesn’t mean we have to let it affect us. We can make the most of it and still experience life fully.
If we end up relying so much on things to go our way, we end up giving our control away, waiting for fate to show us a nice hand.
What is Stoicism
“Just like the tree must tighten its grip not to fall down with every breeze, we must strengthen our position if we don’t want to be swept off our feet by every trifle.”
Stoicism prepares us for the road, it makes us malleable to anything that comes our way.
Just like anything, to get better at something one must practise/ learn. Musicians practice playing their instruments, stoics learn about how to live.
If we don’t constantly turn up and give 100% we are essentially creating two measures of ourselves, our potential selves and our actual selves.
When we express the highest versions of ourselves, we know that we couldn’t have given anymore and so there is no room for regret.
If the saying ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is even remotely true, then the more problems we come across and solve, the stronger we become. We want to build ourselves into an antifragile machine.
The Stoics made the word ‘Eudaimonia’ the crux of their philosophy. ‘Eu’ meaning good and ‘daimon’ meaning inner spirit/ divine spark. So the idea to be good with your inner spirit, live in harmony with your highest self.
Stoics believed that strong emotions can be detrimental if they lead to dictating our behaviour.
“Stoicism has nothing to do with suppressing or hiding one’s emotions or being emotionless. Rather, it’s about acknowledging our emotions, reflecting on what causes them, and learning to redirect them for our own good. In other words, it’s more about unslaving ourselves from negative emotions, more like taming rather than getting rid of them.”
The Stoic Happiness Triangle
The Stoic Triangle in a Nutshell
The Stoics believed in the happiness triangle. Each point representing one of the three key pillars to their philosophy. The points are as follows; taking responsibility, live with Arete and focus on what you can control. All three of these points make up what we know as Eudaimonia.
Living with Arete means expressing your highest self in every moment.
Focus on what you control is about seeing what you can and can’t control. There is no point trying to change something that can’t be changed, instead focus on what can be changed.
Taking responsibility refers to accepting things for what they are. When we accept responsibility we are in a better position to take control and therefore act how we want to.
“Also, you’re responsible for your life because every external event you don’t control offers an area you can control, namely how you choose to respond to this event.”
When you decide to not let outside events have anymore power over you, you can start to live life fully.
Living with Areté
We shouldn’t let things get in our way that bring us below our potential self.
Areté can also be defined as living in agreement with nature. So if to do something is to do it fully, then it is in accordance with nature. So living with areté is basically just fulfilling our natural potential.
When we let our actions be dictated by our impulses, we are essentially on autopilot and who wants live life on autopilot.
To live fully one must express themselves in three different areas:
- Consider our actions rationally and wisely.
- Try to live harmoniously with others.
- Try to live harmoniously with nature.
To be a stoic one must be virtuous. So they broke virtue into 4 cardinal virtues:
- Wisdom: understanding how to feel and act appropriately.
- Justice: knowing how to act and feel well in our relationships with others.
- Courage: knowing how to act and feel correctly when facing fearful situations.
- Self-discipline: knowing how to act and feel right, despite emotions such as strong desire, inner resistance, or lust.
In order to be fully in every moment we need to be aware. Mindfulness allows us to know when we are not present and either thinking about the past or future.
A great approach they had to performing an action was pretending as if it were your last.
One can only control their actions, not what happens afterwards.
Focus on What You Control
Control can be split into 3 groups:
- High influence: our choices, judgments and actions.
- Low influence: health, wealth, relationships and outcomes of our behaviours.
- No influence: weather, ethnicity and external circumstances.
People can’t admire you for what’s already been granted to you by nature, so we are better off working on qualities that have to be earned through our own power.
“We can choose our intentions and actions but the ultimate outcome depends on external variables beyond our control.”
Because we can never be sure about the outcome, it is better to focus on the process, this in turn will improve the likelihood of our desired outcome.
Even if the outcome is not what we wanted, if we have given our highest self then we will know we couldn’t have done anything more.
“The root cause of emotional suffering comes from worrying about things outside our control.”
We can’t make the best of something until we stop resisting it and actually accept the circumstances.
Accepting something doesn’t mean we approve of it, it just means we can’t do anything about it until we accept it.
“Once the hand has been dealt, you have no choice but accept what’s too late to change, and you wish no longer for a more preferable hand but for the strength to play it the best you can.”
Living with areté is within our control + things outside our control are not relevant for the happy life
= living with areté is within our control + enough for the happy life.
This results in us being responsible for our own happy lives.
When we self victimise we blame external circumstances, when ideally what we should do is accept them and then take action. Self victimising makes it impossible for us to reach happiness as fate is not always on our side.
When we redefine what happiness means to us and eliminate anything that rely’s on external circumstances to make us happy, we gain control over happiness.
Considering we are dopamine driven and therefore always looking for the next best thing. If we seek happiness in external things, then we end up constantly delaying it as we are forever looking to the future.
- E.g. if we think TV is the only thing we gain happiness from, when we get one we end up wanting a bigger or better one rather than actually fully experiencing the one we’ve got.
“External events are neutral, and only how we choose to react to them makes them good or bad.”
When we use reason to make decisions, we gain the ability to choose and choice essentially means freedom.
If we think of this in a behavioural way. We come across a cue, we can either react impulsively or with reason. Sometimes our impulses are right but its better to check with reason first. So the more we can slow down our response and actually think about the action to take, the better the outcome.
Awareness allows us to slow down the reaction, give us time to think and then respond appropriately. The more aware we are, the more time we have to think about our response.
“If we generally go with our default reactions, we’ll always be dependent on what happens around us.”
The art of Stoicism is changing yourself whenever you cant change the situation. If something is 40% controllable, we let the 60% occur and make the most of the 40%.
In the words of Shakespeare, “nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
The Villain: Negative Emotions Get in the Way
“The negative emotion orders us to do what makes us feel better and relieve the pain in the present moment, regardless of our values and long-term goals.”
When faced with pain, we can either overcome it or avoid it. Overcoming it makes us stronger whereas avoiding it makes us more sensitive to it the next time.
We can either give into our emotions because makes us feel better or we internalise it and act accordingly so that next time we can become more resilient to it.
“We too often act according to our emotions instead of our values.”
A lot of the time, negative emotions come from not being able to take control of something.
“For the Stoics, the only good lies in our voluntary actions, and our actions can only be voluntary when we’re bringing awareness into every moment.”
There are many ways to practice stoic principles, luckily Jonas and Nils Salzgeber provide 20 free exercises on their website.