Mental Invincibility: 3 Stoic Practices for Limitless Resilience
The ancient wisdom that’s continuing to pass the test of time
Here we are, entering the ninth month of the year, and already I feel my willpower towards building new habits starting to fade.
Maybe you do too. This isn’t anything new, having a peak of motivation followed by a valley of exhaustion is normal. But I think the best way to solve this problem is to tackle it at the source. The problem isn’t the what, the habits, and the way we attempt to work them into our lives, it’s the why.
Being in total control of your mindset, knowing the exact reasons for participating in every life hack, self-development challenge and habit is vital to sticking to them.
Stoicism has run laps around my mind lately. From what I’ve only gleaned from my short time with the topic, the stoics were some of the most mentally tough, hardcore motherfuckers out there.
Their ability to think deeply to live deeply is something I’ll continue to strive for (and will document here).
Stoics practice mindfulness with the purpose of serving others. The best way to serve the public is first by expanding your own mental resources and abilities. Through the three mindfulness exercises explored here, you’ll have new ways to boost your mental clarity and fortify your willpower.
I’ve started with Seneca, as recommended by The Daily Stoic author Ryan Holiday.
Seneca’s letters contain powerful messages on how to be a human in the modern world. Even now, two thousand years later, his writings speak universal truths that apply to everyone alive today. This is the beauty of stoic discipline.
Here are the three practices that can help you unlock more of your potential:
1. Choose your north star (or stars)
We need to set our affections on some good man and keep him constantly before our eyes, so that we may live as if he were watching us and do everything as if he saw what we were doing… There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.
Finding someone to measure yourself against is a great way to enhance your decision-making ability. Although asking yourself the old What would Jesus do? question for the basis for this line of thought, I think taking this a step further to ask yourself the inverse can also influence your behavior. The person or people you choose to follow don’t need to dictate your life, only to influence it for the better.
Of course, having recently ignited my interest in the stoics has led me to compare myself to Seneca, but I’ve also practiced envisioning my ideal future self, and using him (future me) to diagnose any potential pitfalls in my own strategies and behaviors so that I might be one step closer to seeing that version of me in the mirror.
All this to say that taking time to develop a relationship between you and the people whom you wish to begin modeling your life after has helped me make decisions more assertively and swiftly.
Just yesterday, I made the decision to leave the esports scene I had been a part of for the past six months. I felt guilty about sinking time into a video game that ultimately isn’t productive, despite the positives. Somewhere in the Ryan Holiday content archive, I found him discussing stoicism as it relates to time.
Time is all we have, so we should work to make our best use of it.
This for me cemented my decision to cut out this time-suck, and already I feel more relaxed now that I have more time and energy I can spend learning, reading, and writing. All of which set my soul on fire like nothing else.
By meditating deeply about who you are and who you want to be like, your north star will help guide your way. So, trust your gut or take a Pepto. The future’s yours if you let it be.
2. Don’t worry about how you lived because death will come soon enough
I’m going to leave it to death to settle what progress I’ve made. Without anxiety, then, I’m making ready for the day when the tricks and disguises will be put away and I shall come to a verdict on myself, determining whether the courageous attitudes I adopt are really felt or just so many words, and whether or not the defiant challenges I’ve hurled at fortune have been mere pretense and pantomime. Away with the world’s opinion of you — it’s always unsettled and divided. Away with the pursuits that have occupied the whole of your life — death is going to deliver the verdict in your case.
The real question that death asks of us is: Did you live well?
I want to live my life in ways I know will answer a resounding YES to that question. The past doesn’t matter — and can’t matter, so long as you spend today trying to live well. These gains don’t have to be drastic or mean anything to anyone else. Placing judgment on yourself is only meant here as a means to gauge how well you’re actually living. To live well, as this passage implies, is to also be unburdened with social perception. Only when we free ourselves from external expectations can we let our own internal ones fully fuel our choices.
This is where you can find immense power. Of course, there are nuances to everyone’s lives that can inhibit a full-body shedding of what isn’t vital to how you want to live. But Seneca’s writing here helps put our mortality into perspective, getting us to ask ourselves what extraneous parts of our lives can be stripped away so that our dedication towards living well can be back in focus.
We can’t worry about getting in our own way because we don’t have time. Surrender to what you truly need so you can take the next step towards what you want from this life.
3. Devote time to reflect, and be a philosopher
… a person sleeping lightly perceives impressions in his dreams and is sometimes, even, aware during sleep that he is asleep, whereas a heavy slumber blots out even dreams and plunges the mind too deep for consciousness of self. Why does no one admit his failings? Because he’s still deep in them. It’s the person who’s awakened who recounts his dream, and acknowledging one’s failings is a sign of health. So let us rouse ourselves, so that we may be able to demonstrate our errors. But only philosophy will wake us; only philosophy will shake us out of that heavy sleep. Devote yourself entirely to her. You’re worthy of her, she’s worthy of you — fall into each other’s arms. Say a firm, plain no to every other occupation.
This one’s a BOGO. Find time to meditate on yourself and continue to make time to learn from the meditations of others. Both of the previous exercises only work if you habituate reflection.
If we don’t spend time reflecting on our thoughts, we won’t be able to move beyond them and grow from them. Seneca says that growth comes from a person’s ability to acknowledge your own shortcomings so that you don’t dwell on them. I don’t read this to mean judgment as in the second tip, only that being mindful and self-aware can lead you to make better decisions moving forward.
Finding ways to engage in thought, either in reading the works of ancient philosophers or by writing about them here, helps with developing deeper relationships with the ideas in your head, organizing them a bit better in the process. Only through a deep relationship with knowledge can we provide ourselves with the most opportunities to grow and learn.
In my life, this sentiment has translated into journaling. Taking the time to engage with your own mind once enough time has passed to learn and gain perspective is proof that you’re evolving. It’s also a great practice in the moment to focus on getting your thoughts to paper — I’ve found that once I release something onto the page, it no longer clogs my mind.
The added benefit is to have an endless archive of ideas, either your own or distilled from whoever you’ve been reading about. Some ideas will be great, others not so much. But the simple practice of reflecting, either informally as daily meditation-like journaling, or formally through writing a blog post (wink), helps organize your thoughts so you can think, work, and live more clearly.
All of this is kind of amazing, isn’t it?
I’ve always been curious about Stoicism, and what it might take to learn to live unbothered by life’s misfortunes.
It pains me a bit to know that I’ve only begun riding the stoic wave because of authors like Ryan Holiday who helped revitalize Stoicism to the mainstream. It was because of his books and YouTube content that I began with Seneca’s letters. Regardless of how I discovered Stoicism, and how you found this article, I’m glad for the coincidence.
It amazes me how much wisdom is universal and can be experienced by anyone during any period in history. And although I’ve only recently discovered these lines of thinking, I’ve found that working with Seneca’s ideas in daily life has helped me achieve a new level of mental clarity that was previously untapped.
Disclaimer: This story was originally published on Medium.
Here’s a link to the original version: https://medium.com/illumination/mental-invincibility-3-stoic-practices-for-limitless-resilience-393ed6dc336d
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