How to be a Stoic in Five Easy Lessons

More Stoic than Spock: A Guide to Stoicism for Today
Stoic Spock (Mario Tama) (Mario Tama)

Stoics bear irritation and hardship without letting temper get the better of them.

Philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci has challenged himself to live like a Stoic for a full year.  He spoke to Tapestry host Mary Hynes and offered these tips on how to embrace the philosophy of Stoicism.

Acknowledge negative emotions

There's a misconception that stoics train themselves not to feel any emotions at all. Of course this isn't true -- as a stoic, you still experience all manner of negative emotions like rage and anxiety, says Pigliucci. "What you can do is to acknowledge the emotion but say 'yes, but I'm not going to act on it. I'm going to do better than my immediate emotional response would suggest.'"

Visualize the things that annoy you

A Stoic's day begins with a morning meditation. "I pick a quiet spot and start to go over the list of possible challenges during the day,  things that might create problems," says Pigliucci.  For instance,  Pigliucci visualizes a person on the subway blasting music from his earphones. "And then I remind myself of which of the fundamental virtues might be necessary to deal with (the problems)." The idea is to prepare yourself mentally for whatever you might face during the day. (By the way, the Stoic virtues are courage, self-control, practical wisdom, and justice or equanimity.)

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Remember that you're not that important

Another important Stoic meditation is called the Heracles Circle, named after a famous Roman Stoic. "He had this idea of a visualization where you start with yourself, and then you start expanding your sphere of concern," says Pigliucci. "First to your family -- and you actually visualize these people, you don't just name them--  then you expand further to your friends, then further to your acquaintances and co-workers, then further to your city, then to your nation, and then finally to the whole planet, to humanity at large. The idea there is to remind yourself that you are a member of a large community of humankind, and you ought to be concerned with all of them."

Imagine the worst

A major element of Stoicism is the "premeditatio malorum," which is actually quite similar to what some might call aversion therapy. "If you're afraid of something happening, you visualize it over and over, with small steps in a controlled and safe environment," says Pigliucci. "It will help you overcome your fears." And once you're really advanced, you can try the darkest, heaviest version of the Premeditatio Malorum: visualizing your own death. Not for the faint of heart.

Ask yourself these three questions at the end of every day

The evening meditation is just as important as the morning one -- it's when you reflect on your actions and learn from your mistakes. What did I do right? (Stoics are allowed a little self-congratulation every now and then.) What did I do wrong? (Take a mental note for next time.) What did I fail to do? (The next time a similar situation happens, you'll be better prepared.)


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