The Daily Stoic (2016) is a collection of daily meditations drawn from the wisdom of the Stoic philosophers who lived in the Roman Empire. The writings of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the playwright Seneca and slave-turned-philosopher Epictetus all provide thoughtful material for the authors to refashion and refresh. These blinks promote self-reflection, while encouraging the reader to value serenity and life itself.
We often think of philosophy as a bookish pursuit, or perhaps as the lifestyle choice of bearded old men living ascetically in caves. But Stoicism isn’t like that – it’s for the real world. If you’re going to be a Stoic, you'll have to be plugged in and aware of yourself and those around you.
The first precondition of any philosophy is clear thinking. And for Stoicism, that means beginning with self-examination.
The great Stoic teacher of the second century CE, Epictetus, got to the heart of the matter in his Discourses. He stated that we become philosophers the moment we first examine our preconceived notions, and ask questions about our emotions, beliefs and even the words we use each day. By this process, we become attuned to the possibility of analyzing our own minds.
It’s no easy task of course. Ego and self-deception impede learning; no one is going to learn anything new if they think they know everything already. That’s why honest and truthful self-assessment is critical.
The downside to this is that you’ll have to take a good hard look at your weaknesses. It might be scary to admit you have them and that you might have been thinking too highly of yourself all along. On the other hand, it’s just as dangerous to undersell yourself. Try to remember those moments in life when you've risen to the occasion.
Aside from self-reflection, it’s also important to be aware of those around you.
The people with whom you choose to spend your time will ultimately influence the kind of person you become. If you’re around people who push you to be better, you’ll improve. Of course, the opposite dynamic is true: people may try to bring you down to their level.
The Roman playwright and philosopher Seneca, who was a generation older than Epictetus, advised that we should each keep someone in mind whom we respect and admire. Their presence in our mind is sure to guide better judgments and actions.
The eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith was of a similar mind, and even had a name for it: the indifferent spectator. For Smith, it didn’t even have to be a real person. The mere thought that someone is witnessing and sympathetically judging our behavior will help us.
The general principle of these two points is clear: if we get to know ourselves and others better, we’ll be able to see our own actions in a clearer light.