7 stoic principles to help you be more resilient in life

Life is quite an unpredictable journey. You’re on top of the world one moment, and the next, you’re hit with a curve you never saw coming. 

I’ve been there – on the rollercoaster of running my own businesses, trying desperately to roll with the punches and, more often than I would have liked, failing to do so. 

But a few years ago, I dug into a philosophy that helped me to become stronger and more able to handle setbacks like nothing before or since: Stoicism.

This ancient philosophy, believe it or not, packs principles as relevant today as they were centuries ago. 

These seven key Stoic teachings have bolstered my resilience immeasurably. They can do the same for you.

Let’s dive in. 

1) Reframe challenges as opportunities for growth

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” – Seneca

Have you ever found yourself at a crossroads, facing an obstacle that seemed insurmountable? 

It’s easy to view such challenges as disasters as ‘the end.’ However, Stoicism offers a refreshing perspective.

Stoics, like Seneca, believed that life’s hardships are not just hurdles but valuable opportunities for personal growth. 

And it makes sense. Think about it: every challenge is a chance to test your resilience, to learn, and to emerge stronger.

This shift in mindset turns every difficulty into a learning opportunity. Whether it’s dealing with a complex project at work or navigating personal trials, each obstacle is a stepping stone to build your character and capabilities.

So, when you’re next faced with a daunting challenge, channel Seneca’s wisdom. 

Embrace the hardship, learn from the experience, and let it forge you into a more resilient, seasoned version of yourself. 

2) Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“He robs present ills of their power who has perceived their coming beforehand.” – Seneca

Negative visualization, a core concept in Stoicism, might initially seem like a pessimist’s go-to strategy. However, its true intent is far from fostering gloom. 

Instead, it’s about fortifying ourselves against life’s inevitable surprises.

It wasn’t easy but during my ventures in business, I learned to embrace this practice. By envisioning potential pitfalls – a business decision going south – I mentally prepared myself for these scenarios.

This mindset allowed me to create backup plans, build emotional resilience, and approach challenges with a level head. 

When we’ve mentally rehearsed for the rough patches, the actual encounter feels less daunting. 

It’s like having a strategic plan for the unforeseen, ensuring that when setbacks inevitably occur, they don’t catch us completely off guard.

3) Focus on what you can control 

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” – Epictetus

This has been, perhaps, Stoicism’s most powerful lesson for me. 

Ever found yourself riled up over a traffic jam, a flight delay, someone’s critical comment, or interest rates? 

We’ve all been there. 

We don’t control traffic, the weather, other people, or the economy. But so many of us worry and stress about these things. 

Does our worrying change anything?

Not really. 

This Stoic principle is disarmingly straightforward yet profoundly impactful. It teaches us to channel our energy into what we can influence.

In my own life, whether dealing with a personal setback or a business hiccup, this wisdom has been transformative. I have learned to let go of angst over negative feedback, missed opportunities or externalities I have no control over. 

Instead, I pour my focus into things I can influence – honing my skills and refining my business approach, for example. 

Embracing this Stoic insight means less stress and more productivity. It’s about shifting gears from futile worry to actionable steps. 

Try it. Ask yourself “Am I focusing on what I can control?”

Trust me, you’ll notice a remarkable boost in your resilience and effectiveness.

4) Get to know yourself

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” – Seneca

The practice of self-reflection is central in Stoicism. 

The most famous Stoic text, “Meditations,” is essentially a collection of Marcus Aurelius’s personal journal entries. Interestingly, he wrote these reflections for himself, never intending them for public eyes, yet they offer invaluable insights into Stoic thought.

For me, pausing each day to reflect has been transformative. It’s a time to review my actions, decisions, and their outcomes. If you are a regular reader here at Hack Spirit, you may know that I do this through journaling. 

This not only helps in quickly rectifying missteps but also reinforces my resilience by acknowledging the hurdles I’ve overcome.

The beauty of this practice lies in its simplicity. You don’t need hours; just a few minutes of introspective thought can bring immense clarity and perspective. 

By embracing this Stoic practice of reflection, you can cultivate a deeper understanding of your life’s journey, becoming more resilient and centered with each passing day.

5) Remember that things are simply as we view them

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” – Epictetus

Epictetus, one of Stoicism’s most influential figures, teaches us that it’s not the events themselves that unsettle us, but our interpretation of them.

Put simply, he might say that our perception shapes our reality. 

This principle has been a cornerstone in my approach to life’s challenges. Whether facing a critical client or a personal setback, I’ve learned that my reaction to these events holds more power than the events themselves.

In practice, this means actively choosing how to perceive and respond to situations. That is, we choose how events affect us. 

This Stoic mindset encourages resilience and adaptability. By reframing our perspective, we transform our experience of life’s ups and downs.

Of course, embracing this Stoic principle doesn’t mean ignoring reality or being overly optimistic. It means acknowledging the situation as it is yet choosing a perspective that enables emotional stability and focusing on what is actually important. 

A few things are important. Most simply aren’t. 

One of those things that we make a big deal of is other people’s opinions, which brings us to our next point. And it’s a big one. 

6) Focus on what you think, not what others think 

Picture this: You’re scrolling through your social media feed, noticing the flood of likes and comments on someone else’s post. Then you look at your own, with barely a fraction of that engagement. You feel that sense of disappointment, whether you want to admit it or not. 

Sound familiar?

In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s all too easy to measure our self-worth through external validation – be it social media engagement, accolades, or other societal benchmarks of success. 

Marcus Aurelius, however, highlighted a profound irony in human behavior: we value others’ opinions more than our own. He wrote

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”

This Stoic principle has been another guiding light in my journey. If I pegged my worth on every fluctuating online metric or each piece of external feedback, I’d be in constant turmoil. 

Stoicism taught me the power of anchoring my self-esteem in my own actions and beliefs, not in the fickle views of others.

Of course, this isn’t about dismissing all external feedback. It’s about discerning the constructive from the noise. 

It’s about understanding that while praise and criticism can guide us, they should not define us. Our true value lies in our actions, our integrity, and our self-awareness, not in the fleeting approval of the crowd.

7) Acknowledge that you will die

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day… The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.” – Seneca

In Stoicism, there’s a concept known as ‘Memento Mori’ – a Latin phrase meaning “remember you must die.” This principle, while it sounds gloomy, acts as a powerful catalyst for living meaningfully and resiliently.

I think we can all agree that it’s easy to lose ourselves in the minutiae of daily existence, putting off our dreams and neglecting what’s genuinely important. 

But when we acknowledge the inevitability of death, it can help to bring our true priorities into focus.

What will we wish we’d spent more time on? What pursuits will we regret neglecting?

Understanding that our time is limited instills a resilience that transcends day-to-day tribulations. It helps us to focus on what truly matters, encouraging us to live each day with purpose and authenticity. 

Embracing the reality of our mortality empowers us to rise above transient challenges and embrace the fullness of life.

The bottom line 

Life’s unpredictability is its only certainty, full of trials that test our resolve. 

But by incorporating Stoic wisdom into our daily routine, we can equip ourselves to face life’s challenges head-on.

The above Stoic principles truly transformed how I deal with life’s highs and lows. 

They might just do the same for you. 

Until next time. 

Mal James

Originally from Ireland, Mal is a content writer, entrepreneur, and teacher with a passion for self-development, productivity, relationships, and business.

As an avid reader, Mal delves into a diverse range of genres, expanding his knowledge and honing his writing skills to empower readers to embark on their own transformative journeys.

In his downtime, Mal can be found on the golf course or exploring the beautiful landscapes and diverse culture of Vietnam, where he is now based.

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