Four Stoic Habits That Can Make You Resilient And Tranquil

10 min read

Much of our suffering and stubborn refusal to progress is rooted in the mind. The world is a subjective one, the brain has the proclivity to create a narrative where it gets to play the role of the protagonist, striving against injustice and straining to be recognised.

This inner narrator is what’s known as the ego, and it’s the key instigator of human suffering. By assuming the role of the main character, you’ve opened yourself up to all manners of psychosocial and existential stressors. It makes for an exhausting existence.

The best laid plans in training and nutrition can still fall short, by luring us into thinking that we can simply skirt around the inner disquiet and let the pain subside.

Unfortunately, this is a strategy that rarely works out, even when all the other ducks are lined up. A carnivore diet can radically improve mental wellbeing through the trifecta of ketones, total nutrition, and lowered inflammation, but it doesn’t stamp out the ego.

The best laid plans in training and nutrition can still fall short, by luring us into thinking that we can simply skirt around the inner disquiet and let the pain subside.

Unfortunately, this is a strategy that rarely works out, even when all the other ducks are lined up. A carnivore diet can radically improve mental wellbeing through the trifecta of ketones, total nutrition, and lowered inflammation, but it doesn’t stamp out the ego.

Why I’m So Hell Bent On Philosophising

sama personal trainer total fitness

Having put years into optimising both my training and nutrition, and achieving considerable results, I’m happy to put my hand up and confirm that it hasn’t quite been enough to get me to who I want to be in life.

Not ‘where’, but ‘who’.

I’m happy with my physique, although I still have a burning desire to improve. I still want to get stronger, to get more muscular, and be a greater influence in the world of lifting and nutrition. All those are merely extrinsic pursuits. They ultimately don’t matter so much, even if I’m often unwilling to admit it.

On the inside, I’m still short of the man I wish to be, and I’m bent on putting in the work to make tranquillity rather than anxiety my default state of being. Which is why I’m a practising student of stoicism.

If your end goal is to feel truly fulfilled in your day to day life – and why shouldn’t you be – then I’m sorry to say steak won’t be enough to get you there. You need to be able to face the chaos, by navigating the labyrinthian tunnels of the ruminating mind, using techniques passed down from classical philosophy.

Otherwise the disquiet only gets louder, and harder to ignore. At some point, you’ll have no choice but to begin the inward journey. So you might as well start now, rather than being forced into it as a last resort, when your back is against the wall. Don’t postpone the pain. Do the work, now.

The Stoic Solution

marcus aurelius stoicism

I’ve already made an introduction to stoicism on this blog, and dispelled a common myth that’s been perpetrated by Webster’s dictionary. This ancient philosophy isn’t about blanketing out emotion via tyrannical suppression. Instead, its goal is to foster a state of resilience and tranquillity by mastering emotion.

Stoicism challenges people to achieve that mastery by changing their judgement of those emotions, as well as the things that precipitate them.

It’s not pleasant, but just like you don’t get anywhere in the gym without going through serious discomfort, it’s not meant to be a cakewalk. And much like lifting, stoicism gets to work its transformative magic when you’re prepared to summon the discipline to practise it daily.

Here are four key stoic habits that you can bring into your routine, each with their own specific route to achieving inner peace and creating resilience against adversity.

1. Negative Visualisation

negative visualisation

There are two major reasons for mental suffering. Our constant desire for more, and the proclivity to worry about things that are outside our control. Negative visualisation is a force for dealing with the former, by helping you realise that you already have what you need to live in contentment.

The practice is simple.

1. Picture a thing (or person) that you care about.

2. Imagine what your life would be like without that thing.

3. The next time you come across that thing, you’ll be filled with a deep (hopefully) sense of appreciation.

4. Which in turn will help you to stop fixating on other things (or people) to fill an illusory hole in your life, while also making you prepare for the inevitable loss of things that are on loan to you.

2. The Tracheotomy Of Control

worrying about things outside our control

As Seneca once said: “We suffer most in our imagination.” The second chief cause of mental anguish is the inability to stop worrying about things outside our locus of control. Which is extremely small.

Once you acknowledge that, you can start to realise how futile it is to get upset over the majority of events that happen to us in life.

The tracheotomy of control takes a bit more thinking and planning than negative visualisation, so you don’t have to commit to this one straight away.

1. Grab a notebook and a pen.

2. Create three columns. One for ‘Things I have no control over’, another for ‘Things I have some control, but not full control over’, and finally ‘Things I have full control over’.

3. Once you’ve written up the list, strive to allocate your time and concerns accordingly. None for the first, some for the second, and most for the last.

3. Voluntary Discomfort

voluntary discomfort stoicism

The stoics may not have been bodybuilders, but they bore similar ideals in the sense that they were friends of adversity.

“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent— no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” – Seneca

Adversity is where you get to test your character. Without challenge, without discomfort, there can’t be progress. This is why you don’t get to master your zen by traipsing through fields of daffodils and meditating on Japanese cushions. You might be feeling like a euphoric being in those moments, but there’s little to prepare you for life hitting back.

Voluntary discomfort is exactly as it sounds, and it will have the added benefit of making you feel better in the moments that follow the trial. Pain leads to pleasure, due to the subsequent release of dopamine. That’s some neuroscience to go alongside philosophising.

1. Find activities, preferably productive ones, where you can subject yourself to discomfort that range from mild to intense. Have fun with it. It could be a cold shower, a full morning without checking your phone, a brutal workout where you ensure you train to failure, or just strolling around in the winter while wearing peak summer fashion.

2. Don’t let them become comfortable, which is the whole issue I have with meditation. If 10 minutes is easy, up it to 15, or just use the time to practise breath holding.

4. Evening Journaling

evening journalling

The most famous of all stoic pieces of literature, ‘Meditations’, was never intended to be published, or even fit into a discernible narrative. Marcus Aurelius, one of the stars of Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic, kept a journal while he was out on campaign fighting Germanic tribes.

His journal somehow survived his death and the death throes of the Roman empire, making it across the millenia into modernity.

Journaling is a tried and tested stoic pursuit, giving the author the opportunity to hold him or herself accountable after the day’s dust had settled. The stoics lived according to the four virtues of courage, justice, wisdom, and temperance. They judged their own actions by matching them against those virtues.

Once you’re removed from the stress of whatever action you’ve been through, you’ll find it easier to summon reason, assess your efforts, and make a plan for moving forward.

1. Keep a journal at your bedside table.

2. Each evening before bed, write down your thoughts on the day’s action.

3. Use it to assess what things you did well, what you did badly, what you left undone, and what you could have done better.

4. Focus more on verbs rather than outcomes, since effort can always be controlled, but the outcome cannot. Otherwise known as adopting a growth mindset, which has been shown to raise performance, rather than a fixed one.

Wrapping Up

progress in stoicism

The word progress comes from the latin word ‘progressor’, which was used to describe a student of stoicism. That, in a nutshell, is what this philosophy is about. It’s a lifetime pursuit that will never be perfected, and will always throw up more problems for you to face down.

The perfect stoic sage is effectively a mythical figure, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up for moments where you fall below the ambitions of this ancient philosophy.

There will be moments where emotions get the best of you, where an unfortunate event wracks you in grief or anxiety, and where your resolve begins to buckle. We live in an age where temptation and stress are ubiquitous, accepted facts of daily life.

That’s why you need the discipline, and the practice, to ensure that you can emerge from the trials unscathed, and make consistent progress towards the mastery of tranquillity.

“It is not things that upset us, but our judgement of things.” – Epictetus

If you like the idea of inner peace, put the work in for forming a better judgement of the world that surrounds your little island.

Further Reading On Mental Mastery – The Caveman’s Guide To Stoicism

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