Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs

Stoicism was born on the porch of Zeno, but it can be used in the concrete jungle.

(Photo: Blue Cinderella)

“There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.”


Few of us would consider ourselves philosophers.

Most of us can recall at least one turtleneck-wearing intellectual in college who dedicated countless hours of study to the most obscure philosophical points of Marx or post-structural lesbian feminism. For what? Too often, to posture as a superior intellect at meal time or over drinks.

Fortunately, there are a few philosophical systems designed to produce dramatic real-world effects without the nonsense. Unfortunately, they get punished because they lack the ambiguity required for weeks of lectures and expensive textbooks.

In the last three years, I’ve begun to explore one philosophical system in particular: Stoicism. Though my preferred Stoic writer, Lucius Seneca, I’ve found it to be a simple and immensely practical set of rules for better results with less effort.

Ryan Holiday is 21 years old and works directly with Dov Charney as his online strategist for American Apparel. He gets more heat, makes more high-stakes decisions, and take more risks in a given week than most people experience in any given quarter. He also happens to be a die-hard Stoic and incredible at putting the principles into practice…

He kindly agreed to write this piece, and I hope you find it as valuable as I do.

Stoicism 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Entrepreneurs

Author: Ryan Holiday

For those of us who live our lives in the real world, there is one branch of philosophy created just for us: Stoicism.

It doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. Just like an entrepreneur, it’s built for action, not endless debate.

When laid out in front of you, it should be instantly clear what it means. If you have to study it to understand it, someone is probably try to pull something over on you.

Popular with the educated elite of the Greco-Roman Empire, and with thinkers like Montaigne, John Stuart Mill and Tom Wolfe, Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be. How brief our moment of life is. How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself. And finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.

If this were your average introduction to philosophy, we would have to talk about how Stoicism was started (stoa means porch, where the early followers used to hold meetings) and when it began. I happen to think that the history of a philosophy is less interesting than its proponents and applications. So, for a change, let’s spend our time on the latter.

Stoicism had three principal leaders. Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of the Roman Empire, the most powerful man on earth, sat down each day to write himself notes about restraint, compassion and humility. Epictetus endured the horrors of slavery to found his own School where he taught many of Rome’s greatest minds. Seneca, when Nero turned on him and demanded his suicide, could think only of comforting his wife and friends.

Stoicism differs from most existing schools in one important sense: its purpose is practical application. It is not an intellectual enterprise. It’s a tool that we can use to become better entrepreneurs, better friends and better people.

Stoic writing isn’t about beating up on yourself or pointing out the negative. It’s a meditative technique that transforms negative emotions into a sense of calm and perspective.

It’s easy to gloss over the fact that Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor without truly absorbing the gravity of that position. Emperors were Deities, ordinary men with direct access to unlimited wealth and adulation. Before you jump to the conclusion that the Stoics were dour and sad men, ask yourself, if you were a dictator, what would your diary look like? How quickly could it start to resemble Kayne West’s blog?

Stoic writing is much closer Yoga session or a pre-game warm up than to a book of philosophy a university professor might write. It’s preparation for the philosophic life – an action – where the right state of mind is the most critical part.

Stoics practiced what are known as “spiritual exercises” and drew upon them for strength (Note from Tim: I dislike the word “spiritual” for reasons I’ve mentioned before, but scholar Pierre Hadot explains it’s appropriateness here).

Let’s look at three of the most important such exercises.

Practice Misfortune

“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.”


Seneca, who enjoyed great wealth as the adviser of Nero, suggested that we ought to set aside a certain number of days each month to practice poverty. Take a little food, wear your worst clothes, get away from the comfort of your home and bed. Put yourself face to face with want, he said, you’ll ask yourself “Is this what I used to dread?”

It’s important to remember that this is an exercise and not a rhetorical device. He doesn’t mean “think about” misfortune, he means live it. Comfort is the worst kind of slavery because you’re always afraid that something or someone will take it away. But if you can not just anticipate but practice misfortune, then chance loses its ability to disrupt your life.

Montaigne was fond of an ancient drinking game where the members took turns holding up a painting of a corpse inside a coffin and cheered “Drink and be merry for when you’re dead you will look like this.”

Emotions like anxiety and fear have their roots in uncertainty and rarely in experience. Anyone who has made a big bet on themselves knows how much energy both states can consume. The solution is to do something about that ignorance. Make yourself familiar with the things, the worst-case scenarios, that you’re afraid of.

Practice what you fear, whether a simulation in your mind or in real-life.

Then you, your company, and your employees will have little left to keep you from thinking and acting big.

The downside is almost always reversible or transient.

Train Perception to Avoid Good and Bad

“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.”

-Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics had an exercise called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down. What they meant to do was make it impossible to not practice the art of philosophy. Because if you can properly turn a problem upside down, every “bad” becomes a new source of good.

Suppose for a second that you are trying to help someone and they respond by being surly or unwilling to cooperate. Instead of making your life more difficult, the exercise says, they’re actually directing you towards new virtues; for example, patience or understanding. Or, the death of someone close to you; a chance to show fortitude. Marcus Aurelius described it like this: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

It should sound familiar because it is the same thinking behind Obama’s “teachable moments.” Right before the election, Joe Klein asked Obama how he’d made his decision to respond to the Reverend Wright scandal. He said something like ‘when the story broke I realized the best thing to do wasn’t damage control, it was to speak to Americans like adults.’ And what he ended up doing was turning a negative situation into the perfect platform for his landmark speech about race.

The common refrain about entrepreneurs is that they take advantage of, even create, opportunities. To the Stoic, everything is opportunity. The Reverend Wright scandal, a frustrating case where your help goes unappreciated, the death of a loved one, none of those are “opportunities” in the normal sense of the word. In fact, they are the opposite. They are obstacles. What a Stoic does is turn every obstacle into an opportunity.

There is no good or bad to the practicing Stoic. There is only perception. You control perception. You can choose to extrapolate past your first impression (‘X happened.’ –> ‘X happened and now my life is over.’). If you tie your first response to dispassion, you’ll find that everything is simply an opportunity.

Remember–It’s All Ephemeral

“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.”

-Marcus Aurelius

I understand that entrepreneurs need to dream big and have unshakable faith in themselves in order to do great things. But if recent Valleywag headlines are any example (Cisco Exec Makes Death Threat Over $4,000 Bike), the inhabitants of start-up land can probably benefit from some practice of humility and self control. Not that bad tempers and ego are new problems.

Alexander the Great conquered the known world and had cities named in his honor. This is common knowledge.

Stoics would also point out that, once while drunk, Alexander got into a fight with his dearest friend, Cleitus, and accidentally killed him. Afterward, he was so despondent that he couldn’t eat or drink for three days. Sophists were called from all over Greece to see what they could do about his grief, to no avail.

Is this the mark of a successful life? From a personal standpoint, it matters little if your name is emblazoned on a map if you lose perspective and hurt those around you.

The exercise Marcus Aurelius suggests to remedy this is simple and effective:

“Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.”

It’s important to note that “passion” here isn’t the modern usage we’re familiar with. From Wikipedia:

One must therefore strive to be free of the passions, bearing in mind that the ancient meaning of ‘passion’ was “anguish” or “suffering”, that is, “passively” reacting to external events — somewhat different from the modern use of the word. A distinction was made between pathos (plural pathe) which is normally translated as “passion”, propathos or instinctive reaction (e.g. turning pale and trembling when confronted by physical danger) and eupathos, which is the mark of the Stoic sage (sophos). The eupatheia are feelings resulting from correct judgment in the same way as the passions result from incorrect judgment.

The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia or peace of mind (literally, ‘without passion)’, where peace of mind was understood in the ancient sense — being objective or having “clear judgment” and the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows.

For those interested in browsing the Greek words used in Stoic writing that are often mistranslated or miscontrued in English, here is a glossary of common terms.

Returning to the point of the exercise, it’s simple: remember how small you are.

For that matter, remember how small most everything is.

Remember that achievements can be ephemeral, and that your possession of them is for just an instant. Learn from Alexander’s mistake. Be humble and honest and aware. That is something you can have every single day of your life. You’ll never have to fear someone taking it from you or, worse still, it taking over you.

Tim: To illustrate a few real-world examples, here is an email from me to Ryan as we were working on this post:

Thanks, Ryan. Read it all and ran over all the material again. I think we’re getting there. The piece should be uplifting and empowering without being defensive, so it will still take some working, but no worries. I’ll be reading Epictetus tonight for more ideas. The part that bothers me is the entire “Remember you’re small” bit, which doesn’t jive with start-up founders. To do huge things, I really think you need to believe you can change the world and do so better than anyone else in some respect. It is possible, however, to simultaneously recognize that all is impermanent: the transient pains, bad PR, disloyal false friends, irrational exuberance, hitting #1 on the NY Times, whatever. I think it’s about not dwelling on pain and not clinging to ephemeral happiness. Enjoy it to the fullest (this is where I disagree with some of the Stoic writings), but don’t expect it to last forever, nor expect some single point in time to make your entire life complete forever.

Stoic writings are not arcane arguments for bespectacled professors—they are cognitive exercises proven to center practitioners. To humble them. To keep them free and appreciative.

Stoic principles are often practiced in rehabilitation clinics with alcoholics so that coping mechanisms don’t drive them to drink. One wouldn’t view their new perspective on life as pessimistic or limiting; we celebrate the fact that, for their first time in their lives, they are empowered and unburdened.

We’re all addicts in some respect, and we can all experience that same freedom.

You can be a Stoic, and joke around and have a happy life surrounded by what’s valuable to you.

In fact, that’s the ultimate goal.

Stoicism is Ideal for the Entrepreneurial Life

The Stoics were writing honestly, often self-critically, about how they could become better people, be happier, and deal with the problems they faced. As an entrepreneur you can see how practicing misfortune makes you stronger in the face of adversity; how flipping an obstacle upside down turns problems into opportunities; and how remembering how small you are keeps your ego manageable and in perspective.

Ultimately, that’s what Stoicism is about. It’s not some systematic discussion of why or how the world exists. It is a series of reminders, tips and aids for living a good life.

Stoicism, as Marcus reminds himself, is not some grand Instructor but a balm, a soothing ointment to an injury wherever we might have one. Epictetus was right when he said that “life is hard, brutal, punishing, narrow, and confining, a deadly business.”

We should take whatever help we can get, and it just happens that that help can come from ourselves.

To finish, I want to share some of my favorite Stoic reminders. Look at them as short, mental routines to run through often. Each is a quick reset to recalibrate yourself and be happy with the things that matter:

Marcus Aurelius

“So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature and what I do by my own.”

“Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.”

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own–not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”

“Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”


“‘What progress have I made? I am beginning to be my own friend.’ That is progress indeed. Such a people will never be alone and you may be sure he is a friend to all.”

“Show me a man who isn’t a slave; one who is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear. I could show you a man who has been a Consul who is a slave to his ‘little old woman’, a millionaire who is the slave of a little girl in domestic service. And there is no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed.”

“Count your years and you’ll be ashamed to be wanting and working for exactly the same things as you wanted when you were a boy. Of this make sure against your dying day – that your faults die before you do.”

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

“Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything that is in her power.”


“So-and-so’s son is dead

What happened?

His son is dead

Nothing else?

Not a thing.

So-and-so’s ship sank

What happened?

His ship sank.

So-and-so was carted off to prison.

What happened?

He was carted off to prison.

-But if we now add to this “He has had bad luck,” then each of us is adding this observation on his own account”

Related Post:

Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You

The Stoic Reading and Resources List:

(Note from Tim: I have bolded my favorites, the first three from Seneca)



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369 Replies to “Stoicism 101: A Practical Guide for Entrepreneurs”

  1. “Is this what I used to dread?”

    I think this quotation is worth it's weight in gold. When you are pursuing something big – as an entrepreneur does – it seems like every bump in the road and every barrier or setback bears your ultimate doom. In retrospect, most of these perceived disasters either turn out to be little more than annoyances or even opportunities. I've often found it helpful, when in the thick of it, to think about “how bad can it really be?” By playing out the worst case scenario, it's possible to diffuse the fear of the situation and concentrate on the opportunity.

    Thanks for a great post. I've been reading Tim mention Seneca for some time now. Perhaps now is the time to pick up some of his writing.


  2. There's a certain appeal to Stoicism; especially to me and others like me: more and more connected-yet-distanced from each other.

    I appreciate your write-up and how you connect this philosophy with modern life, yet I'm also glad that few of my friends are full-blooded Stoics.

  3. I co-majored in philosophy and stoicism was one of my favorite philosophies because it is a practical application with uses in any situation. My experience is that most people do not react well to a stoic take on seemingly unfortunate events. Most people look at it as inconsiderate but really its just the best way. My other favorite philosophy is Socrates' dialogues. His philosophy about death is great: 'if there is a heaven I was a good man, and if there isnt and it is just a long sleep then I welcome that too' paraphrased. Thanks for the late night post, and the site update for mobile.

  4. Tim has often referred to Seneca and, being unfamiliar with his writings, I never quite understood why? Now its all very clear. There are so many parallels between the Stoic philosophy and Tim's approach to life in 4HWW and beyond.

    I'm not religious. I don't follow a creed or doctrine. But the Stoic philosophy appeals greatly.

    Great post. Brilliant information.

    Thx Ryan and Tim.

  5. Hey Tim,

    I took your advice and brought Seneca with me on a mini retirement to Greece. It was life changing. Our society seems to have shifted into books like the Secret that just don't seem to posses the depth and practical applications that these principals do. Great work.


  6. Thanks Tim and Ryan for giving me (and I'm sure countless others) the impetus to further explore the Stoics. Have added your suggestions to wishlist for next order and must read bookmarks.

    “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” – Marcus Aurelius

  7. I am currently reading Letters of a Stoic, on Letter XL. I underline about 2-3 phrases per section. One of my favorites so far is

    “'Any man', he says, 'who does not think that what he has is more than ample, is an unhappy man, even if he is the master of the whole world.'”

  8. When I took Philosophy in college the professor never framed the message in a way I found practical for business and in turn I never found philosophy very appealing. Turning negatives into positives is a huge concept for budding entrepreneurs as there are a lot of ups and downs in building a business. I think every person who is getting beat down by entrepreneurship should read both this post as well as the one on emotional highs and lows.

    Thanks Tim and Ryan for putting an entrepreneurial spin on Stoicism for us!

  9. People interested in stoicism would do well to check out “A Guide To the Good Life: The Ancient Art Of Stoic Joy” by William Irvine, which provides an effective primer like this article, gives you the history of many of the stoics mentioned, and provides stoic philosophers views on things common in daily life. It's the most useful book I've ever read.

    I think one of the things I've gotten out of stoicism, and something that people often forget about stoicism, is that stoics have a duty to society, and that it is everybody's obligation to figure out what they're best at and then do the sh*t out of it. I think that right there is the basis for entrepreneurialism.

  10. Doesn't everyone think like this naturally? Does it have to be a specific mindset?

    Tim/Ryan, was your real world example a showcase of your own self barriers? Why does “remember you're small” bother you? I think it's important to remember where you're going and what your goals are, and to observe where you currently are given the gravity of your goal… and if you're always thinking big, aren't you going to always remember that you're small? That works!

    This trick is it being non-linear, doing it all at once and that both excites and humbles you.

    There is no right/wrong there are just opinions given ones perception, or popular opinion based upon time and place.

    I guess my observation is do what works for you and create the rules as you go along.

  11. Also, another tip:

    There are just things happening in the world – nothing else. People just add meaning and stories to situations, when the truth is, it just happened. It is difficult for people to accept this concept for sensitive situations, though, when you boil it down, strip away all added-meaning and story.. it's just something that happened.

    I think a part of using that concept and living in this society is marrying the thought with human empathy. It doesn't ''mean'' that you look at everything and are 'cold' towards it, just that you should understand the base 'truth' of what happened – which is always just an action; all the while connecting, listening to and understanding the vast majority of people who don't look at what happened with the same concept of thought.

    /end my random thoughts :p

  12. Really weird I found this today- my wife accused me of be stoic last night and I took offense- never saw myself as such, but it is true- just did not like the negative implication and bears truth to the idea that most people do perceive it as my wife put it as being a pr*ck.

  13. I am convinced that the more you attain in life the more it becomes an endless poker game..the best things are still free.

    For the ambitious there is ultimately one necessity-
    wisdom: study, practice, refine, repeat.

    Other terrific reads are The Art of War, The Prince, and An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life

    Great post Tim and Ryan..the stoics were responsible for arguably the greatest empire in history …

  14. For me, Monday morning is generally set aside for reading (and, wow!), what a pleasure it was to start my day along with this post.

    In reading it, though, I was quite intrigued by how it appears to mirror certain tenets of Buddhism in many ways. . .and the core principle of seeking a certain “detachment” from life's ephemeral “problems” and our own insecurities is almost “right on” with Buddhist teachings. It's quite fascinating, actually.

    I often wonder how much of these teachings were shared across the world through explorers and traders, and how teachings that we currently attribute to one individual or region of the world have actually materialized from interaction between different peoples and geographic regions. Tim, or other folks reading. . if you know of any research in this area, could you point me in the right direction, please?

    Ryan, I'm curious as to if you've had any experience in finding ways of sharing this sort of content with people who can be somewhat averse to opening themselves up a bit to new ideas/ways of thinking. This is one of my own personal challenges, I guess. . .you see, as an entrepreneur and a guy who is always open to any new learning experience, I'm an easy sell when it comes to broadening my horizons. . .particularly with a “wee bit 'o philosophy.” But sharing this great stuff with others I find difficult, as I think a lot of people not instantly intrigued by it, find it to be preachy instead. Any insight/tips you can provide? This is also something I pointed to when Cameron posted his “Manic…” post here some months back as well. Sharing this insight with family members and team members so that they too can attempt to understand the entrepreneurial mindset is often the toughest sell.

    I'd love to hear your feedback.


    1. Yes, the same thought crossed my mind in regards to the similarities of Buddhism and Stoicism. the detachment, the focus on right attitude and right actions. Underlying it all we have the notion of the impermanence of all things, how ephemeral life is. As I read the article I was struck how the two were almost interchangeable soo…good point Doc!

  15. Thanks, Tim! This is timed perfectly, as I'm feeling today as a new starting place as I move in a new direction with a number of projects. I've been feeling that my Good is getting in the way of Great right now. Seneca's ability to come face to face with the worst that could come, and laughing in the face of it is exactly what I need right now. Thanks!

  16. I would second the recommendation for Tom Wolfe's “A Man in Full”.

    I've read it numerous times, but it has been years. I will need to dig it out – thank you for the reminder.

  17. This article is a taste of sweet white honey. Wow, it is a refresher to read this stuff and it is important to practice humility and free ourselves from unnecessary anxieties. Thank you for the friendly reminder.

  18. I am amazed at how easily things come into your life just from a thought. This was the exact article I needed to read today. Byron Katie is one of my favorite teachers of Stoicism and I didn't even realize that is what she was teaching. Just one more affirmation that it is time to blow the dust off of some of the skills that I have learned and use them.
    Thank you for sharing such an insightful and inspiring post.

  19. Thanks for writing about this. I remember Seneca from high school Latin class. Then, I started reading his books a couple of years ago and was blown away. This was right before I heard about The Four Hour Work Week; so Tim's book struck a cord with me due to the Stoicism references. I am happy that Tim's business advice is in line with what I already believed; this makes it very valuable to me and a practical tool that helps me do business the way I had always wanted to, but didn't really know how to yet. Your most recent posts are outstanding.
    Thanks again,


  20. This summary of Stoicism was great in that it hit key points. I lost my book by Seneca on a plane in Thailand but think I will go pick up another copy today.
    This last quote by Seneca is AWESOME:

    “Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

    Best to you,

    Jose Castro

  21. I'll add one more to “Remember you're small”; “Remember you're large”. That is, just as we are individually insignificant on the astronomical and geological scales of time and space, we are enormous on the molecular scale, and in terms of evolutionary complexity. There will always be constructs that are smaller and larger than ourselves; that fact by itself means little, but it helps keep our human-scale ambitions and limitations in perspective.

  22. Sounds great. Excellent advice. But I must call bullsh*t on the credibility credentials of a 21 yr old. It may be high stakes decisions for his company who sells tshirts using scantily-clan teenagers, but let's see how he handles the real world. Sustain these principals when you are 40 yrs old, have a mortgage, house, wife, about to be laid-off from your corporate job and are figuring out how to pay for your kids college.

    Ahhh, when I was 21, I was quite the fearless animal too. It reminds me of that Buddhist story about how easy it is to be a monk who meditates in the mountain cave all day. That's easy. Try keeping that mindset when you are in the crowded village with a bunch of jerks everywhere. There's your test.

    Great philosophy though. Excellent advice. If more Americans subscribed to this, we would be in a different place.


    From Tim: I'm not sure where this anger come from, Starfruitman, but I don't think it's necessary. His credentials for what? I've known Ryan for years. Age doesn't automatically qualify or disqualify someone for using Stoicism well with real problems. I also know plenty of older people whose “experience” is simply the same mistakes repeated year after year. I think it might make sense to take a breath and give Ryan the benefit of the doubt, especially since you've never met him nor — I suspect at least — read some of his other work. He's a bright and immensely capable person.



  23. Hi Tim & Ryan – I followed the links and as a result read a large chunk of Pierre Hadot's book. Particularly fascinated to read that Epicureanism wasn't what I thought it was. Seems to me that this philosophic school has a relevance to us today. Nobody reading this blog needs to be told the translation of Horace's “Carpe Diem”, but who amongst us knew that it's from the epicurean school?

    What are your thoughts on Epicurean philosophy ?

  24. Hey Tim & Ryan,

    Thanks for sharing guys, this is helpful presentation. Don't know if I can follow you on certain points. However, I appreciate the practical, real world approach. Action rather than abstract, mindless debating… I'm all for it. 🙂

    I really like, “To the Stoic, everything is opportunity.” This is how I approach situations, so I guess I fall in line with Stoicism at that level, haha… who what of knew! Like everything, weaknesses are therein, for example, it's easy to discuss perception and emotion, and how it should be controlled but we all know it's easier said than done.

    Most people lose the battle, I've seen sharp people, at least intellectually, that have the emotional age of a 14 year old. It's difficult, for many because most don't think about their preconceived ideas or perceptions.

    We just look at the world around us (worldview) without stopping to examine the lens we gaze through to see the world around us. It will always be easy to accept things based on our (lens) but harder to stop and maybe admit, we need to change the lens if possible, because if those speckles are changed the outcome, perception and views change will it. Something to think about. 🙂

    Thanks again for sharing.


  25. Stoicism really is european version of zen:

    # You face your misfortune with smile
    # You strive to be present at the moment
    # You understand that you are not a sum of your past, nor your future

    I don't really think that philosophy generally isn't useful: In closer inspection many philosophers that are traditionally not regarded as stoicistic seem to express same bright ideas (except perhaps that post-structural lesbian feminism…).

    These ideas tend to show themselves in different names in all philosophy, from Wittgenstein to Jesus, or from Freud to Swedenborg – It's a matter of perspective.

  26. I am always looking for a way to express the practicalities of my own mix of zen, Taoism, God, etc.

    This article really helps put a tactile element into words on all the ideas listed in the comments as well.

    Tim. It would be really cool if you could talk about the changes in others of reaction to people who work on your ideas. Like how once you work on the path of Humility others begin to raise you up. Etc.

    I suggest this because I think people like to see results for their efforts but may have trouble seeing them unless they are shown how to recognize it. Do you think its a good idea?

  27. Amazing material.

    Self-help is nothing new 🙂

    I love this kind of practical writing/ It's awesome to read this on a big blog like Tim's and I can only be happy of it.

    I tend to naturally have a “stoicisim mind”. I remember not being afraid of a particular situation and have 2 people around me going crazy only because I wasn't runing link a chicken without his head.

    Stephen Covey Law N°1 is exactly that “choose your response to a stumuli”.

    Please share this knowledge !

  28. Yes, in everyone's life “Karma Happens”. As a practicing stoic, which I never would have thought of myself as such until I read Tim's blog, I do practice clearing out my compulsions and impulses using the R3X methodology or processes and find myself becoming more “stoic”, although I was describing it as more Zen or Buddhic too. Since doing my own clearing work I notice that as I am relieving myself of a lot of franticness I notice how frantic people around me are being, by their own unwitting choice.

    The quote on my wall from Mellen-Thomas Benedict (or Near Death Experience fame) is “The Balance of finite order and infinite chaos is the Key. Being Clear is the Way to Master the Key”. Isn't this what the stoics where resolving within themselves and their environement?

  29. “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own–not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.” (marcus aurelius)

    This quote will make it hard to adhere to this principle..

    “Returning to the point of the exercise, it’s simple: remember how small you are.” (ryan holiday)

    A lot of these principles are great, but they are better outlined in the New Testament by Jesus. If you have a problem with all of the salvation, spirituality and supernatural, just filter it out. The principles are still better laid out there than in the writings of Stoicism

  30. You wrote: “Stoic principles are often practiced in rehabilitation clinics with alcoholics so that coping mechanisms don’t drive them to drink. One wouldn’t view their new perspective on life as pessimistic or limiting; we celebrate the fact that, for their first time in their lives, they are empowered and unburdened.”

    At some point in my own Clearing work I realized that for the first time in my life, and was also empowered and unburdened by standing up and saying the truth about myself and my then condition as it truly was. Facing the truth of my condition helped to rise above it.

  31. I loved this- it's totally practical. I remember when my single mom died suddenly and I was orpaned at 16, and the school councellor kept at me “you must be ANGRY, your mother left you, she abandoned you, you must be mad at her and God” and I was like well actually lady, my mom died, she didn't leave me on purpose, its nobody's fault, people die…Of course I was unbearably sad, I STILL miss her to this day, but I had to accept that reality, and doing so definately has shaped my life. I mean, I'm not the one who complains about traffic or the weather, sheesh!…my philosphy has been regardless of what is happening 'hey, its ok, nobody died…' and absolutely nothing stops me from being happy or creative/productive/successful in my endeavors. I mean, we can't always choose our experiences, but we can choose how we 'experience our experiences'. Life is cute! Thank you Tim and Ryan xo

  32. Many, many kudos for bringing an unfashionable, badly perceived but extremely important subject – philosophy – to bear on modern life and entrepreneurship in particular.

    As a result of entrepreneurial activities I'm going through bankruptcy – it is not an easy time to put it mildly. But, you go through the worst case scenario and realise the world hasn't come to an end. Also, as the article points out, new opportunities inevitably present themselves and… What doesn't kill you makes you stronger (Nietsche (or was it Kanye West)).

    Personally I think stoicism syncs very neatly with buddhism.

    Finally, I'd personally recommend Nasim Taleb – brilliant stuff (and predictor of the financial crisis). A mathematician, he points out that basically, the only thing you control is how you face the firing squad. (Have a nice day!)

  33. Today's blog was one of the best. And so appropriate to the times we are facing today. I think Epicticus was a little to cold for me. Especially with respect to someone's son dying. A circumstance that is every parent's nightmare and to not experience the pain fully would be assinine. Pain and grief are a part of life that should be experienced. However, after time, life must go on and from that experience I imagine something can be learned. Having said that, I know I was at times, nearly paralyzed with fear of something happening to my son in my early parenting days. That certainly wasn't constructive, didn't protect him, and if anything, dampened the joy of parenting.

  34. Wise words, well written. Simple ideas like, “Drink and be merry for when you’re dead you will look like this,” are the ones that you forget first when times are hard and worries gnaw at your mind.

    Remembering at least this would be a good place to start….

  35. Great post, great topic
    Here's where i take issue (and perhaps someone could straighten me out on this): All things being equal, if a sage holds that he is “immune to misfortune” because events are inherently neutral (they have no +/- value beyond that with which we imbue them through our impulses), wouldn't he also have to accept that he is immune to good fortune?
    It would seem that you could never say anything insofar as an event being good or bad, whether it was, suffering physical pain or winning the lottery.
    Bottom line, if we remove our impulses (that which guides our senses on the positive or negative nature of a given event), how do we know what's good?, What to shoot for? What actions are appropriate? – Maybe I've gone and boiled things down to far; thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Any input that might help me back up a few steps would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. When I understand that (1) events themselves are neutral, and that (2) I have complete control over my response to events, then I am more than immune to any “fortune”. I actually have the ability to imbue as much + (or -) to each event as I want to!

      Since our natural impulses are unreliable at best, however, your question is very valid: where to go for a reliable basis of what is “good”? Put another way, how can I learn to act in a way that guarantees genuine, grounded “happiness” as the product of any given experience? Is it possible to react to everything in a positive manner?

      In my experience, yes, it really is! It requires work of course, but it is possible, and the work pays well!

      The Bible, just as it is written, forms the basis of my values. From it, I learn what is good, what to shoot for, what actions are appropriate.

      I am a Christian and love God: Therefore, I know that all things work together for my very best–no exceptions! I have personally experienced this 100% of the time throughout my own 28 years, I know people who have testified of the same after having lived a long life serving God, and I have full confidence that, as long as I continue to love God (which means keeping all of His commandments, which are simple and easy) then I will always experience that this is true.

      Does this mean I receive the very best in life, 100% of the time? Yes! Does this mean I get rich in all earthly things, and am always popular with everyone? No! Not necessarily. But it DOES mean that (1) I become rich in all eternal things–such as kindness, patience, generosity, and all other virtues–(2) I get “popular” with God, and (3) I receive all the earthly things that I truly need.

      If you choose to subscribe to another belief system, then someone else will have to try to help you. Personally, I know without any doubt that real Christianity–following the example of Christ and therefore becoming like him more and more–is the best way to live. It is making me genuinely happy, regardless of any event or person that comes my way. The One who put the whole Universe together is my friend and “caretaker” and guide for life. I haven’t found anything more certain or ultimately fulfulling, and I am personally acquainted with hundreds of other people–young and old–who happily witness to the same.

      P.S.: These core ideas are taken directly from the Bible. I didn’t include references above, but in case someone wants to know, Philippians 4:8, 11-12; Romans 8:28; 1 John 5:3; and Matthew 6:33 form the basic framework.

      P.P.S.: Yes, this is a lengthy response to a 1.5 year old comment. It helped me to write it though, so even though nobody else will probably read it, someone still benefited. 🙂

  36. IThere is a great primer on Stoic Philosophy from The Teaching Company; It is called:

    Practical Philosophy: The Greco-Roman Moralists

    Course No. 4473 (24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture)

    Taught by Luke Timothy Johnson
    Emory University
    Ph.D., Yale University

    This is the guy that wrote “The Real Jesus”, a landmark piece of scholarship about 10 years ago on the theology of Jesus.

    Good stuff. Highly reccommended. You can play these tapes, CDs, or mp3s while jogging or commuting. It is a fantastic use of dead time.

  37. Great post… I love Seneca's first quote. Basically, if you wouldn't be friends with yourself, then who else will. It gets to the core of it all. I need to pick up the Seneca book, this stuff is too good to ignore :)…

    Make your own Good Luck,


  38. The Stoics are interesting as a piece of intellectual history, but a lot more interesting, empirical work has been done very recently by positive psychologists, affective neuroscientists and “happiness” economists to see which ancient prescriptions actually work. Bruno Frey, Richard J. Davidson, and Richard Layard have posted pdfs of their work on their websites, which can be read for free on a variety of topics: the efficacy of Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices on general mood, neural plasticity and immune function, the effectiveness of cognitive therapy on depression, the role that television viewing plays in modulating people's moral conduct, whether those who are self-employed enjoy greater life-satisfaction. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's work is also worth looking at, though I'm not sure that he's posted any of his articles on his sites.

  39. I loved this post. The Stoic teachings remind me of the work of Byron Katie (aka The Work). She invites people to question any belief that is causing them pain and to turn these beliefs around. I knew her teachings echoed Daoism in some ways, but it seems like Stoicism is even more in line with her work. I'd recommend her to anyone who has ever had a negative thought, and I'd be interested to hear what all you Stoics out there think about her!

  40. @Sean

    Socrates was an expert at spiritual exercises. If you can run a Socratic dialog on yourself you can convince yourself to abandon almost any negative or destructive thought.


    The Hays translation of The Meditations is so basic and so straightforward that I have a few copies I like to give to people. It sells itself. One of the important tenets of Stoicism though, or at least where it differs from Christianity, is that it's not necessarily evangelical. We all have a lot of work left to do on ourselves before we should worry to much about converting others.

  41. This from the wikipedia page:

    “For nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to you in life, and always to look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value everything has with reference to the whole.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, iii. 11.

    That is so Tim! 🙂 Thanks again for pulling into light something I knew in the back of my head, but didn't know how to articulate.

  42. “…., yet I’m also glad that few of my friends are full-blooded Stoics.”

    Craig what would you do if more of your friends were Stoics?

    After reading about happiness by Dalai Lama, I understod that “pain” is in your mind, and wheather you are happy or not is your own decision.

    When my friends complain about their lives I remind them of these teachings, and that usually starts an argument :0)

    Why is it that we think that our happiness is dependent on the right life partner, the right boss, the right weather, more money or something else?

    This renders a tremendous feeling of personal power.

  43. The Meditations (Gregory Hays translation. I strongly recommend this translation over all others. It’s the difference between liking and hating it.)

    I totally agree. I tried reading Aurelius many times and was always left feeling I didn't get it… until I found Hays' translation. Worth its weight in gold.

    Great post!

  44. this is timely. after waiting in the ATL airport (avoid it like death) for 4 hours i boarded airtran (also not super pleased) and proceeded to head straight into a storm. it was bumpy. sitting in business class (someone has 50 bucks!) made me even more nervous as the crew looked at each other and winced as the plane shook. (i wonder what the elevation drop is at 400 miles an hour 30,000 feet above the air when you get that weightless feeling? 5-50feet?

    my companion latched onto me and buried her head in my chest as she clutched my favorite organic teeshirt.

    the scene from fightclub where ed norton's plane gets ripped apart came to mind, as well as the satanic verses where in the opening chapter the two protoganists fall 30,000 feet)

    but then i realized that death would be quick. other than the free fall. and me not wanting to lose my life, (and that of my kids as they were two rows behind me) in a moment of clarity it became clear there was nothing i could do to save my life and thus i resigned my self to death. all the projects, dreams, etc would vanish with my passing and that was that.

    when i came across your posting on stoicism it dawned on me that that's what was guiding me on the time. a little fear gave way to wtf. i won't remember a thing.

  45. Another inspirational post. I took some philosophy at University, mainly Logic, but I didn't get very far into the history of it.

    On my path of being a better person, increasing my education and delving into my fears and failings, I evolved a state of mind that follows the Stoics very closely (I just never had a name for it). I even took a course that 'preaches' this exact mentality – 'everything is meaningless, people make the meaning.' It truly made concrete this way of thinking for me.

    There are so many great quotes up there that It's hard to pinpoint one in particular, but this one hit the nail on the head for me:

    “Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.”

    Perceptions are everything, when you are confronted with any option, a choice arrises, not only in the interaction, but in your mind. Your perception of the situation creates the meaning and that is what you will take away with you.

    @Sean I agree whole heartedly agree with you how others can view this approach to life. I am often considered somewhat aloof in situations, even cold or distant. Mostly because I don't break down and commiserate a misfortune in the same manner as might 'normally' be the routine of society. It can be unsettling, but then again, if I don't put much meaning into it and I can continue to walk tall in my understanding of myself.

  46. Interesting article. I wasn't familiar with Stoicism.

    Long ago when I would tell one of my confidants about a perceived problem I was having, she would always reply, “What are the facts?”

    The facts were always irrefutable. What I had been “thinking” and “feeling” were always the real issue – and the moment I realized this, the problem always lessened.

  47. great stuff. Really enjoyed the article. Most I will take some I will leave. really interesting was the link to Harnessing Entrepreneurial Manic-Depression: Making the Rollercoaster Work for You. Being in business reminds me of waitressing

  48. One of my favorite posts! Have already forwarded it to several fellow entrepreneurs.

    I'm taking a great class on Meditation/Buddhism, the concepts are incredibly useful and practical yet very few people consider them because Buddhism is obscured by different religious practices and intense academic debate that loves to use words like “soteriological.”

    This stuff is changing people's lives for the better, let's get it out into the real world where people will actually pay attention to it!

    A great practical and short book on meditation and why it's good for you:

    Bhante H. Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

    @Ryan Running a Socratic dialogue on yourself sounds similar to performing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – a very successful modern technique for treating psychological disorders simply through talking

  49. One of my majors was philosophy and don't remember any of my fellow philosophy students ever talking about Marx or post-structuralism of any kind. And I don't remember those even being the subject of elective courses, let alone required courses for graduation. And I went to a liberal school. I do remember poli sci, history, comp lit types talking about that stuff. And Marx was mentioned in my economics courses, not favorably.

    And turtlenecks?!

  50. Albert Ellis is worth including here. Although he invented the field of “Rational Emotive Therapy,” he always acknowledged his debt to Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. The thing that earns him a place in this pantheon is his acerbic sense of humor, and the vigorous effort he made to distill these insights into very pithy and actionable exercises. A great place to start is his book, How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything – Yes, Anything!

  51. I recently heard author William B. Irvine discuss his new book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy on the radio. Really interesting. Podcasts with him are probably out there.

  52. @Ed,

    The turtleneck anecdote isn't meant as a slam towards all philosophy majors. My brother was a philosophy major at NYU, and there are intelligent, humble students of the craft, to be sure, as well as practical courses. Unfortunately, to fill four years of class time and debate, this major also tends to attracts some people who are very fond of intellectual tail-chasing with semantics vs. applications. My brother would be the first to agree on this. Be that as it may, some of my favorite courses at Princeton were in the PHI department — Professor Rosen's class on Epistemology and Metaphysics was amazing. Not as immediately relevant as some of the Stoic writings, but thought-provoking all the same.

    Hope that helps and thanks for the comment,


  53. @Ben,

    You wrote:

    “Here’s where i take issue (and perhaps someone could straighten me out on this): All things being equal, if a sage holds that he is “immune to misfortune” because events are inherently neutral (they have no +/- value beyond that with which we imbue them through our impulses), wouldn’t he also have to accept that he is immune to good fortune?”

    Yes, this is indeed my biggest criticism of Stoicism, as it can be used to turn one into an automaton of logic. I hope to explore in future posts how I combine it with elements of Epicureanism and Buddhism to emphasize the + elements, not just avoid negative overreaction.

    Good observation and thanks for the comment!


  54. @JC,

    Epicureanism has some real gems, and I combine it with Stoic principles, along with some Buddhist state-awareness practice. I find it's possible to cultivate logic and non-overreaction (Stoicism) while still enjoying the little things (Epicureanism) and focusing on the present moment (Buddhism) instead of excessive planning or regret.



  55. Interesting article, but I don't know if I can buy stoicism. Perhaps I don't understand it fully, but only changing my perception doesn't have any affect on reality. It just allows me to live in my own world.

    I know myself well enough to believe that I am inherently evil. Even if I convince myself otherwise, my actions demonstrate that I am evil (yes, I know this bring up the debate of what is evil). And that's just my point, there must be an outside party to gauge right and wrong. This doesn't occur in stoicism.

  56. Very edifying! Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were on top of it!. Another great stoic to remember is the great Zeno of Citium.

    I think we can also look to Nietzsche as an ideal for the entrepreneurial mindset. “On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain: either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow. “

  57. @Ryan

    “We all have alot of work left to do on ourselves before we should worry too much about converting others.”

    Amen…A philosophy to live and die by. There is a vast difference between preaching and a sharing information, violent faith and healthy debate, the search for knowledge/personal growth and the appearance of knowledge/self importance.


    A bottle of wine someday to you. The book and blog have been of more use than than years of school.

  58. @Carter

    It is EXACTLY like cognitive behavior therapy. The two are very similar and I think that's why it has been so effective for 2,000 years.

    Christianity v Stoicism is an interesting discussion all by itself. For some reason, Christianity viewed Stoicism as a threat early on (even though Christianity came after) despite how similar they are. John Stuart Mill once asked whether the world would be a better place if people replaced the Bible with Aurelius' Meditations. For me though, I like Stoicisms emphasis on taking responsibility for oneself rather than giving it to God. Prayer is much more theoretical and mental than the Spiritual exercises are.

  59. @ Tom
    “What are the facts?” is a perfect modern translation of a Stoic exercise. A common theme in Epictetus and then later in Marcus is to look at a situation and say “What part of this is under my control and what part is out of it?” Then only worry about the first part.

  60. This makes a lot more sense to me than 90% of the Law of Attraction material I see. Thank you for a stimulating read with practical application to the thrills and chills of self-employment.

  61. @Ryan & @Tim in the post, “Stoic writing” is presented as a “Meditative Technique”. Can you be more specific as to what Stoic writing is?

    Is this journaling with the perspective of the 3 Stoic principles you are pointing out in the post or is there more to it?

    Do you practice Stoic Writing daily, weekly?

  62. fantastic post! Reminds me much of what several others have said, very Buddhist. Or is Buddhism just very Stoic? Did a 10 day silent retreat with a Vipassana group in Japan once (Vipassana being a very odd form of Buddhism for the Japanese!), and this post brings me back to those basics. Breathe. It's just perception. Oh, you feel pain? What is pain? It's just that, pain. Nothing more nothing less, unless you give meaning and emotion to it. Lovely way to be this gorgeous Spring day. Thank you.

  63. Tim,

    Excellent recruitment for the post my friend!! Thanks for posting as I cannot wait to delve into deeper thought on these prinicipals and how they can positively effect not only my life, but the lives of those around me.



  64. @Chris

    Marcus wrote a large part of Meditations on campaign in Germany. The Stoics often wrote in the morning and at night as a well to prepare and reflect on the day. It's meditative primarily in the sense that the intended audience was often THEMSELVES and not other people.

    So when Marcus writes “Remember to always…” what he is sort of saying is “Marcus, I am reminding you to always…because you forgot it earlier today and it caused you problems.”

    I try to do it as often as I can. On my site, my goal is to digest what I'm learning out loud as way to hold myself accountable through my readers but I like to observe the same principles.

    I think the fairest thing to say is that they're both equally similar to each other. It's probably a good thing that they developed the principles independently of each other because it means there is some deep human truth to them rather than just “respect for something old”

  65. Just speaking from experience, good applied philosophy is usually very technical and of more value to people working in related technical fields: AI, statistics, informatics and theory in the various special sciences. Their work isn't entirely impractical, it's just not immediately applicable. For example, the Robot Scientist that recently got so much press has its design rooted in a formal ontology (the product of computational metaphysics), the hypothetico-deductive model of explanation that comes from a long tradition in the philosophy of science, and the graphical approach to causal modeling that has depended in no small part on the work of philosophers at Carnegie-Melon. I presently work as a researcher in neuroscience at UCLA (but I have a PhD in philosophy). Very few neuroscientists can give you much practical advice on what to do with your brain, beyond what everyone already knows (don't get hit in the head, avoid booze, get plenty of rest, etc.). In the same way that most neuroscientists are not in the business of giving practical advice about brain maintenance, most philosophers are not in the business of giving practical advice about how to get knowledge and regulate your emotions. Until philosophers learn how to implement their theories in the form of demonstrably useful tools themselves, they'll likely retain their unfortunate reputation. But that's really where the rubber meets the road for any theoretician…in the tools that they develop or that others develop inspired by their ideas.

  66. Thankyou, there are times when I think wow who are you and then other times when I want to give you a huge hug full of appreciation! I think the latter wins out in the journey of life. Great one, big Thanks

  67. awesome stuff Tim!

    by the way, I could be wrong but II think were you wrote;

    “THOUGH my preferred Stoic writer, Lucius Seneca, I’ve found it to be a simple and immensely practical set of rules for better results with less effort.”

    you may have meant;

    “THROUGH my preferred Stoic writer, Lucius Seneca, I’ve found it to be a simple and immensely practical set of rules for better results with less effort.

    all the best

  68. also;

    “someone is probably TRY to pull something over on you.”

    may have meant to be;

    “someone is probably TRYING to pull something over on you.”

    btw, I'm happy to proof read for you Tim. I can offer fast turnaround and excellent results (for free). Let me know if you're interested.

  69. My way of life is to think every breath I take is wonderful.
    Stoicism is very similar but adds a practical way to think about it.
    I love the part about turning mistakes into opportunities. Now it is going to be great when I make mistakes… 😛
    I will definitely find a book on stoicism, very soon… And the 4-hour work week! lol

  70. I very much liked the article. However, I have to make this point. Do it, Do it, Do it!!!
    Being in politics since a very young age, I know the difference between an opportunist and a stoic. Your example of Mr. Obama's response to the Rev Wright issue left me wondering where that came from. Knowing a little about what happened there I would assume you are aware that he sat in the pew for 20 years and and called the Reverend his mentor but then threw Rev. Wright figuratively under the bus. By the way, the speech he gave on race was developed much earlier for a special occasion. Knowing he was having this issue, he decided to use the speech at that time rather than later. Stoic? I don't think so.
    I've been trying to come up with a politician who is also a stoic. Perhaps Abe Lincoln best fits that mold.

  71. Ryan and Tim,

    Do you have any personal internal “markers” you use to know when you are beginning to swing too far into either “this is awesome!”-land or “it means nothing/I am small”-land and need to do something to pull back?

    I find for myself that I know when I've gone too far into feeling enthusiastic because, while there are visions of desirable outcomes in the forefront – of course a lot of fun to mentally play with, I also sense a kind of frenzied energy underneath. At that point, I feel like I may have set myself up for the downward slope (and sometimes my internal response to subsequent events shows this may be the case). Still, I find it difficult to sense the connection with the things and ideas that inspire me to move in certain directions when also trying to maintain equanimity. Actually, now that I think about it, I do keep moving, but there's so much third-party observer aspect to it, I'll have this sense of “I remember this felt really important to me at one point” and it feels strange to be moving proactively without as deeply feeling why I'm doing it in the first place. Yet, I know maintaining a level, logical perspective is vital.

    Having said that, for you, what is the internal “staying connected” experience like when equanimity maintenance is also a priority?

    Also, have you found stoic philosophies to be helpful in dating and relationships? I'm serious, but I'm laughing right now because I just envisioned a dating website with photo mascot/concrete bust of Seneca at the top. Instead of wishing everyone the best in the search to “Find Your Soulmate”, the tag line might read “Enjoy yourself, but let's keep it in perspective, shall we?” I wonder how many memberships they would sell?


  72. Is this what I used to dread?

    The tension went out of my body when I read those words. Here I am worrying about how to buy some new clothes for from fear of how I look. The quote put it into perspective for me. It does not matter what other people think of how I look.That gives them power over me. My jeans ripped are my uniform to humbly remind myself of what is important. Not new clothes. No a different perspective on how to look at yourself first. Face your fear and learn the lessons life has to offer us. A case in point. The current recession has gotten everyone worldwide scared. I say is this what I dread? Not having the lifestyle before the money dried up? The recession is a natural reset economic button. We got to start 2009 fresh. Take this time to really find out who you are? What you want? Where you want to go? Why you want to do it? Who will be along for the journey? When will the changes begin. How will you make them happen? How will you treat the recession as a gift?

  73. With regard to the bit about remembering you are small while having the boldness to believe you can change the world:

    There is a Buddhist saying, “Act as if the fate of the world depends on your every action while laughing all the time that anything you do makes any difference.”

  74. One more comment. Seneca's writing can be found at It has the following writing online:

    Cicero's De Officiis,
    Seneca's Moral Essays (3 vols),
    Seneca's Moral Epistles (3 vols),
    Plutarch's Lives translated by North (3 vols of 8),
    1 volume of Plutarch's Lives translated by Dryden,
    Castiglione's Courtier,
    Erasmus's Christian Prince,
    Elyot's Governour,
    Sidney's Arcadia Book I (index only),
    Spenser's Faerie Queene (Books I, II, and VI),
    Montaigne's Essays (3 vols) translated by Florio,
    James I's Basilikon Doron, and
    Hall's Character

  75. HI TIM, YOU ARE RIGHT. My comment above was completely uncalled for and unnecessary. I woke up in a foul mood. I apologize and it won't happen again. Please delete my post.

  76. @ Leonard – good for you 🙂 “How will you treat the recession as a gift?” – I love this, I think it's important to make lemonade out of lemons, for lack of a better term right now. So many are riding the “woe is me” wave right now, when there are truly a lot of treasures out there right now…

  77. @Leonard,

    I would actually recommend NOT reading the free online texts. Some are as much as 100 years old and written in a completely different style. Part of the reason that philosophy is so inaccessible is the reliance on old texts that use colloquialisms the reader no longer understands.

    Marcus never said “Thou” and that phrase was only common in English for a few centuries. In 2009, using thou instead of “you” is alienating.

    The new translations are fantastic. Try them.


  78. Have a look at Alain de Boton's Consolations of Philosophy – a great book that helps the individual explore some of the greatest themes of philosophy through a simple, practical lens.
    Keep it simple,

  79. I believe if you apply ESP principles some holes show up in the Stoic Philosophy.

    Their argument that misfortune/loss is largely a matter of viewpoint seems quite inadequate when you're on the rack being tortured. You *don't* have control to turn that into a positive. Not if they go far enough to destroy “you” by sufficient abuse. Now, given that, where is the dividing line where you *do* have control by how you change your perception? What, no magic line? An indistinguishable shading from no control to full control?

    Perhaps, as I like to say, you don't have *control* but you do have *input*. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

  80. I'm posting again because your comment system seems to have removed the definition I put in brackets for “ESP”. It stands for “Exaggeration of System Parameters”.

  81. Funny, I've always lived this way and had no clue that there was a whole philosophy around it. Very cool, (as always Tim :)!

  82. Great read … thanks for sharing!

    A few years I read some books by Alain de Botton, the Zurich-born London-based writer and philosopher, and I was really impressed by how practical he made it sound. Alain de Botton manages to make philosophy really accessible and “prescribes” philosophers to tackle certain attitudes, mental predispositions, moods, etc. This is when I discovered that philosophy is not just for an intellectual “elite”, but can be understood and applied by anyone.
    I would strongly suggest The Consolations of Philosophy to dip your toes in the minds of some great thinkers … hmmm, that Idiom didn't really work, did it? 😉

    All the best


  83. (this comment replaces the previous one)
    Great read … thanks for sharing!

    A few years ago I read some books by Alain de Botton, the Zurich-born London-based writer and philosopher, and I was really impressed by how practical he made it sound. Alain de Botton manages to make philosophy really accessible and “prescribes” philosophers to tackle certain attitudes, mental predispositions, moods, etc. This is when I discovered that philosophy is not just for an intellectual “elite”, but can be understood and applied by anyone.
    I would strongly suggest The Consolations of Philosophy to dip your toes in the minds of some great thinkers … hmmm, that Idiom didn't really work, did it? 😉

    All the best


  84. Hi Tim,

    While browsing through some comments, I came across a comment from Alison that not only made me smile, but also reminded me that it would be great if you could dedicate some next-edition-4HWW pages to the aspect of how implementing the 4HWW-teachings impacts on relationships? Some philosophy might come in handy here too, I guess 😉

    Many thanks in advance,
    All the best,

  85. @Robert

    Believe it or not Cicero has an essay on just the topic you mentioned (could you be happy while on the rack being tortured?) Perhaps someone else could take a crack at answering but it could be possible, especially with a mix of some Epicurean principles. No one ever said it would be easy or fun or painfree, though. That's your straw man.

  86. @Tim and Ryan – It has seemed to me for sometime that our species is inching closer to a unified theory of sorts in the realm of what might be called “relational logic” or “transrationality” which exists in a sort of post-religious context (i.e. no dogma, “none, do you hear me?!”) Just kidding.

    Here's what I mean: a physical analogy, large muscle groups and stabilizing muscle groups…analogous to Newtonian Mechanics and Quantum Mechanics. Both are necessary, vital – but accessed differently.

    I happen to think that what you guys are sharing here is another echo of this. Laws of being and thinking…some large and seemingly immovable, predictable, constant; some small and seemingly random, highly powerful…but all connected, participatory – also accessed in different modalities…some physical, some mental, some transrational.

    Perhaps it's a bit neo-platonist combined with a techno-utopianism…I'm not sure labels are useful here. I find it to be simply connected to the breath and a core level anchoring to life long learning. It is rhythmic, physical, and only mental upon reflection or discussion.

    “In times of change learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Something like that, like true freedom in knowing that no one and nothing can keep you from learning. It may be the only true freedom.

    @ Tony Landreth,
    Studied Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s work in grad school – in particular “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” and I highly recommend it for learning psychology and what he calls “steps towards enhancing life.”

  87. Tim,

    Gotta' tell you, you really have the most efficient and incredible assistant with Amy. . .she is a total ROCK STAR!

    Just thought I'd share that with you. . .her professionalism is nothing short of stellar.


  88. I am a Christian, so I take a different approach. I thought that some might find a biblical perspective to these issues interesting. The Christian approach is based primarily on the Christian understandings that God is completely in control (i.e., sovereign) over everything that happens and that everything that happens to a Christian is somehow for his or her good.

    OK, here goes:

    1) Deliberately choose to see everything that happens to you within the framework of the sovereignty of God.

    Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.

    Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

    Psalm 103:19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

    Psalm 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.

    Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

    2) Deliberately choose to give God thanks in the midst of everything.

    1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

    Ephesians 5:20 Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Phillipians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

    Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

    3) Seek to discover God's purpose for the situation.

    James 1:2-5 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

    2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

    Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

  89. Holy Hell! great article TF and Ryan! I've finally found some philisophical muscle behind positive thinking. So those self help guys aren't just a bunch of wankers! haha!

  90. WILD story about Alexander.

    Tim – I just sent Amy an email about my options this summer – I would love if you could take a look!


  91. Very nice article.

    Gives a very refreshing perspective on philosophy. A lot more practical than what we were teached in high school.

    Shows that positive thinking is nothing new and has very old roots.

    Thanks for the insight

  92. @Ryan Thanks for the clarification of reading the texts. I just ordered some books of stoic readings from the local library

  93. Great post Tim, one of your best so far (though you also get a big hat-tip for your helpful insights on finding a rental flat in BsAs, and your post on using twitter is one of the best I've seen yet).

    The two lines I liked best in Ryan's piece were: “helping overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon” and “the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.”

    This to me goes straight to the heart of the matter: how do we manage emotional reactivity and channel that tremendous energy to create productive behaviour by tapping into our natural gifts?

    I think Stoicism's practicality lies its ability to express in words the complex nature of brain function and how it affects emotional reactions and behaviour.

    Tony Landreth has already made lots of really helpful connections to neuroscience and positive psychology, as well as the observation: Neuroscientists and philosophers aren't in the business of offering practical advice and applicable tools.

    So in the spirit of finding tools that we can use to become better entrepreneurs, better friends and better people, I'd like to share some useful (brain) theory and (business) practice from the work that I do.

    Interestingly, in common usage the word “stoic” typically refers to someone “indifferent to pain, pleasure, grief, or joy” and “a person who represses feelings or endures patiently”. This to me suggests either disconnecting from emotions entirely or suggesting they have an on/off switch; I think neither metaphor is accurate or helpful.

    Here's why.

    Put simply: we have two brain systems, a fast emotional limbic brain that is concerned primarily with our survival (it's the oldest part of our brains) and the slower, rational neocortex that does the mental heavy-lifting (which evolved later and gives us the thinking-power that distinguishes us from other animals).

    The limbic brain's basic mode is: act first, consider later (which can produce knee-jerk reactions) while the neocortex gathers information and weighs options: consider first, act later (like asking yourself: “what's the smart move here…?”).

    We cannot disconnect from our emotions or simply switch them off – the survival-drive of the limbic brain ensures that we will always have an emotional reaction to the outside world. In other words, you cannot NOT have a reaction to things…but you CAN (and should!) learn how to manage that reaction and usefully apply the energy that it produces.

    The two comments above by Starfruitman are I think a clear example of this difference. Feeling a bit crappy and frazzled at 8.15AM he indulges in some emotionally reactive commentary, then just under 12 hours later he looks at his behaviour with some detachment and rational objectivity and posts a chagrined retraction. Classic example of fast-emotional brain reaction followed by (somewhat ashamed) rational-brain effort to fix the damage and correct the issue.

    This emotionally-reactive state is where “haters” live 24/7, and never get beyond their tantrums, screeds and bullying behaviour – so well done, Starfruitman for realizing the effects of your early-morning behaviour and seeking a remedy.

    In her comment above Alison (13/04 5.25PM) asks about “markers” to keep track of (as I read it) emotional and mood swings that we all experience in the course of an average day – some pleasurable, some prone to knock us off track.

    Rather than make my long comment here longer still, I'd offer her some ideas and invite interested readers to click on my name in the sidebar to go to a blog post I've written about “Understanding resistance to change” that offers some practical applications of these theories (and philosophies!).

    Thanks again Tim and Ryan, great stuff.

  94. Well, Tim, I like how you are choosing to spend some of your time. It's super helpful to read such a blended (yet footnoted) articulation of philosophical points. To say nothing of the extreme timeliness of this for me personally. (Funny aspect that, to consider your writing to be timely or is it simply my own ability to seek out what is needed in the moment.) It provides a kind of emboldening I can use now.

    I think the most inspiring thing about you is how relevant you make yourself. This is a perfect demonstration of coming from a centered-logical-engaged place in life.

    Tomorrow will be a better day, appreciating myself more, giving less quarter to my demons, chasing comfort less, giving a quiet and even eye to the next steps of my creation. All things I am perfectly capable of.

    Enjoy purpose,
    Suzanna Stinnett

  95. Isn't Spock the consumate stoic? Shouldn't we all aspire to that “neither hot nor cold but lukewarm” mental state?

    My problem is I like to get excited. I know it has it's drawbacks, but if we resort back to the principles of Stoicism we are all eventually food for the worms, so does it really matter?

    Don't get me wrong, theres some good stuff about fearing the thought of failure more than the actual event and to expose yourself to some uncomfortable situations on a regular basis just to show how ridiculous your fear is . But I would be careful about “rationalizing away emmotion”. Instinct carries alot of information that may not be readily apparent at the time but upon further reflection you can gain insight from uncensored impulses.

  96. @Ryan

    You mentioned the Cicero essay. Perhaps it might be possible to be happy or “positive” while being tortured but depending on how long or how great the torture becomes I don't believe *anyone* can maintain a positive attitude. I believe that “strawman” example points to the fact that we are matter that we only influence, we don't “control” it. Another extreme example is a total debilitation stroke that leaves one at a semi-vegetative state. There's *nothing* there to be positive *with* and I believe sufficient torture or other conditions such as being forced to stay awake for 30 or 40 days will demonstrate that we *don't* have a choice in how we react to everything.

    I point that extreme examples out as something where it is easy to see the lack of choice. I wonder how much there is in the day to day reactions the original post is really talking about. There certainly is a lot of choice possible in most of life's situations but not total.

    I also worry about “positive thinking” falling into the Voltaire Dr. Panglos trap.

    Where, no matter what happens if we just look at it right “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.

    If you'll forgive me for another extreme if a Serial Killer rapes and kills your 6 year old kid then no, there is no “positive” reaction.

  97. Ryan,

    Having heard Tim previously mention his interest in Stoicism piqued my curiousity. Thanks for the well written article.

    @Ross: As a fellow believer in Christ, just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to contrast of our faith with the philosophies of the stoics. I would add my favorite verse under #2 Deliberately choose to give God thanks in the midst of everything: Prov 3: 5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.” Written by King Solomon, considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived.

  98. Awesome post. Thanks to Tim and Ryan for researching and writing this article. Just goes to show us all, Great Truth is Timeless. It means the same now as then.

    Thanks again,

  99. Thank you, Ryan and Tim. I don't visit here often but have enjoyed the blog in the past and came today as part of a Web-surfing jag instituted to avoid facing the truth of a fantastic personal crisis that sprung up on me this week. After two days of crying my eyeballs out, obsessively searching the Web for help (or self-help books), and literally making myself ill with obsessive thinking and remorse, I am finally feeling calmed. This crisis will not be over anytime soon, but I am extremely grateful for the leveling moment of clarity. Thanks to all the commenters, too.

  100. Great topic for a post. I love the idea of distilling philosophy into practical applications.

    My reaction to Stoicism is that it could lead to a boring or muted life (in comparison to a life lived without Stoicism). My thinking is essentially that the sweet isn’t as good without the sour. The stronger the sour, the stronger the sweet. Basically I’m saying to appreciate the sweet, you need to fully FEEL the sour. My read of this post makes me think Stoicism would DILUTE the sour by reframing it, or changing the meaning of the sour.

    For example, I think if you feel fear of going bankrupt, allow yourself FEEL the fear and let it propel you towards taking actions that will alleviate it. Don’t reinterpret the fear as an opportunity to learn how to better forecast demand.

    I assume that the counter argument is that Stoicism is not about not reacting, it’s about not overreacting. That to me sounds like an impractical line to tip toe. I would rather overreact to my team winning the championship then having to stop and think about if I am overacting.

    And a small nit-picking point, I don’t think the example of how to deal with grief or sorrow was an example of a practical application. If we feel horribly sad that a person close to us has passed away, I don’t think someone telling us this is a chance to practice fortitude is a practical response.

    I do agree with many of the points in this post. In a future post I’d like to see philosophies of how to live life while maxing out emotions and using them to achieve goals (if there is such a philosophy). All in all I think any post that gets the gears turning is a great post. Keep em coming!

  101. There's nothing better than a little Carl Sagan to help your remember how small you are. From “Pale Blue Dot”:

    “Look again at that dot. That's here. Tht's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

    Good stuff as always Tim – thanks!

  102. I would also like to look further into this concept as it relates to vegetarianism, in relation to your recent post about such. I found this quote:

    “But for the sake of some little mouthful of meat,
    we deprive a soul of the sun and light,
    and of that proportion of life and time it had been
    born into the world to enjoy.”

    SENECA (C.5 – C.E.65)

    ^Not sure about the source, if someone can confirm, great thanks 🙂

  103. This is total BS. You need to read some Ayn Rand. All the goal of this stoicism is to deny good and bad, black and white, and linger in gray moral uncertainty. And that's where our country is at right now.

  104. Ryan & Tim,

    GREAT post! I never knew I was naturally Stoic — thanks!

    Here's some “Reminders for the Advanced Soul” quotes you two will enjoy from Richard Bach’s “Illusions”:

    “Remember where you came from, where you’re going, and why you created the mess you got yourself into in the first place…”

    “Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, and teachers…”

    “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.”

    “You are never given a wish without being given the power to make it true. You may have to work for it, however.”

    “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”

    “The world is your exercise-book, the pages on which you do your sums.
    It is not reality, although you can express reality there if you wish. You are also free to write nonsense, or lies, or to tear the pages.”

    “Every person, all the events of your life, are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you.”

    “In order to live free and happily, you must sacrifice boredom. It is not always an easy sacrifice.”

    “Here is a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

    “The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”

    “You’re going to die a horrible death, remember. It’s all good training, and you’ll enjoy it more if you keep the facts in mind. Take your dying with some seriousness, however. Laughing on the way to your execution it not generally understood by less advanced lifeforms, and they’ll call you crazy.”

    “Everything above may be wrong!”

  105. I just watched your talk on I frequent that site on a daily basis for the past year and this is the first time I find myself inspired to comment.

    I find myself really taking a second look at my life after your video. I followed the similar path of being deathly scared of swimming, taking Japanese and quitting, and not believing in the 9-5 rat race. However, I realize that I may not have used fear to motivate me to success but rather to beat me into submission and forcing me to shrink to inactivity.

    I find myself re-inspired to find the right methods of achieving what I initially set out to do and I will do my best to realign myself with past dreams.

    I thank you so much for sharing your experience and I want you to know that you've made a difference in my life.

    Thank you.

    Gun K

  106. In Band of Brothers there is an officer who faces the horrors of war by convincing himself that he is already dead. Using this outlook he survived the horrors of WW II with his sanity intact.
    Nothing is ever as scary as the second before the unknown becomes the known.
    Just two thoughts brought to mind by this comment.

  107. I like your “be cool” comment rules. And I think Tim Ferris and American Apparel are likable, affable things in the world. Good things even.

    But you need to know that this post lands somewhere between the court case against Don and Tim's shoes on the unintentional comedy scale.

    Do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy of Aristotle's Nicomancean Ethics (if you don't already have it). You'll learn what the Stoics were responding AGAINST and, more importantly, why the history of philosophy deserves a bit more credit. Context matters.

    And please read this:

  108. For me a “spiritual exercise” is being on a trail in the woods or the helm of a sailboat at sunrise on the ocean. I learned that from Thomas Paine in The Age of Reason.

  109. Tim / Ryan,

    This is absolutely brilliant. Many of us fail to pursue our dreams for fear of rejection, whether it is asking our dream girl out on a date, cold calling prospects, asking for a raise, starting up that company or whatever.

    For me, one of my worst fears was to have no money. And then, I actually realised that fear and it ended up being one my of greatest blessings because being broke and having next to no money was no where near as bad as I thought. Sure I had to make some changes but I truly had to ask myself, “Is this what I used to dread?” Now that what I feared most in my life actually happened and I realise it was far worse in my head than in reality, I have been starting to look at some of my other fears. However your point about practising what you fear is amazing. I'm committing to taking that on every day. I can see how once we actually encounter what we fear and realise it's never as bad as we imagined, life becomes so much easier and there is so much more freedom to live and I mean really live rather than just exist!! As someone once said to me, “I cannot choose how I will die; I can only choose how I will live”. Practising your fears can definitely give you an access to that.

    Thanks so much guys,

    Cheers, Niro

  110. Mik,
    That's not exactly true, of the ancient Greek Philosophiers believed in what they called the “transmigration of souls” basically the same thing as Incarnation. But yes the Stoic/Buddhist parallels are very prominent.

  111. I'm half-English, so I've got stoicism built in! 😉

    (In all seriousness, I have yet to read this article (though I will), but as Tim is asking for test comments, I am replying from a new email address. Here's to hoping this isn't an email grab. (It seems I've got some cynicism to go with my stoicism… :-o))

  112. Tim, this is just a test comment, as per your Twitter request. But it gives me a chance to say how much I get out of your blog and your site, lurker though I am. Many thanks,


  113. I wish I had something insightful to say, but honestly haven't had time to read the entire article yet; but I’m just responding from the Twitter post. Please delete this as I'm sure I will look at it later and feel like a moron.

  114. Test comment as per Tim's request on twitter. Stoicism is out and out the simplest philosophical doctrine to follow, and is well advised for those who fear the unknown.

  115. This is just a test.
    By the way im wondering where in Vietnam you went. I was down south from hsmc and took the public bus to rach gia, phu quoc, and long xuyen. Great trip but I stood out a little (6'4″ 255 lbs football player), but had a great time.

  116. Sorry, brain is that fried I didn't even click the right “link” … arrgh, so please don't take notice of my previous reply, which doesn't make sense at all 😉

  117. Oh ok, so you have a new Comments platform … was slightly confused at first but I can see why you need something more interactive with the amount of comments, and the information available in these.

  118. Good reading, Tim and Ryan. It's reassuring to know that some advice given to me by my father and to which I still adhere shines through in this post. If I became upset by another's behavior toward me, my dad's 2¢ was that I was letting said behavior affect me. Perception is indeed reality and being aware of that fills any situation, no matter how dire, with opportunity.

    Just finished reading “The Celestine Prophecy” and while it's not totally aligned with the stoic thoughts above, it does share the philosophy of staying objective and therefore staying in control.


  119. Great post, love these guys, thanks for involving their voices in the forum. Almost majored in Philosophy, cept I already had a job waiting tables.
    Commenting per your twitter request, “testing the site”. I expect you have some intention that is a little more nuanced than just “testing”, but then again so do I. Comments about you. First the good stuff. You are inspiring, clever, a “smashing young man”, and it is often a great pleasure to read your blog, which I have shared with many friends. Your apparent arrogance is far overshadowed by what you have to offer, and I like your strong stance and your a apparent ability to receive feedback. Just two nights back I befriended a young man who was moving to Spain as a result of reading your book, and we shared some good appreciation and criticism of your work.
    Now the bad stuff. You appear to be a hack in some regards, claiming some mastery in areas that have more nuance than a dilettante survey can offer, and some of your authoritative voice is lost after seeing exactly how you, for example, won the kick boxing championship. It almost appears that you did so for the wrong reasons, or for reasons that are so instrumental as to appear contrary to some of the intrinsic values you espouse on philosophy. I and a a few of my colleagues speculate that you are at times an over-achiever, seemingly motivated by some feeling of lack, inadequacy or fear. There seems almost a desperation on some of your actions that belays a lack of trust in the world you experience. If this is so, perhaps it has helped you to accomplish great things, but I think true mastery lies beyond. Here is a book by an old friend on the subject.

    My deep gratitude for your work.

    – L

    Obviously this is meant for Timothy Ferriss, and it is at the readers discretion as to it's publication.

  120. @tferriss
    Testing as requested, sir.

    BTW, have you heard of the book Unstuck? It looks like material that you would be interested in. Click my name for more info…

    Book excerpt:

    'Simple, effective meditations that can enhance the biology of your brain and body, and make it far easier for you to deal with and transform the beliefs and fears that have inhibited and overwhelmed you.

    Clinically tested experiments with words, images, drawings, movement, yoga, and dance that can help you mobilize your intuition—and your body—to move surely and often swiftly through each of depression's seven stages.

    Detailed, practical plans for using food and supplements, and the ancient, powerful methods of Chinese medicine to balance your physical and mental functioning.

    Ways to make the world's spiritual wisdom and spiritual practices a sustaining part of your healing journey.

    Strategies for tailoring all of these approaches and techniques to your unique, individual situation, to your life.'

  121. It's not just an exercise, it's a habit one needs to establish. Habits have a way of having their own momentum and articles like these coupled with their exercises help us get forward momentum and establish those positive habits. For that, I think you both for this and articles like it.

    Quick lament: I've been a part of starting and selling 3 companies, authored 3 books, and lots of consulting and travel (34 countries so far), making me a multi-millionaire before I was 30. Now 42 and not nearly as “rich” as I was (as-in, not feeling that joy and passion in my life), I'm reading Tim's book and realizing how far I've fallen from what I loved. My momentum of standing still is strong as I work at a large software company in Seattle getting lost in the crowd. I'm feeling the creativity re-kindled through the book and these articles. Thank you for that and keep them coming.

  122. This post is the first of yours I've read and it sparked me off in a million directions. I ended reading about covalent bonding. lol. I didn't know the first thing about molecules until today. Tks for the inspiration!

  123. One more comment. I think the interpretations of stoicism that it is about emotional reserve and a striving for placidness amidst turmoil is inaccurate or at the very least just one tiny molecule of what the original thinkers intended. Bertrand Russell criticized it because he said it meant that if we weren't happy, we had to accept not being happy. I think the hellenistic writers were alluding to the process of personal accountability and ethics. That process is a subtle one because our society and our communication habits support lack of accountability in thought, word, and action. Hence, we are trying to understand and analyze an ethical paradigm from an unethical context. To be accountable at a core level is experienced somatically utilizing cognitive processes as a tool only. The perspective that stoicism is about rising above or suppressing emotion misses the point because it is a cognitive interpretation of an emotional/somatic experience. Stoicism deserves so much more depth of critique.

  124. ‘According to nature’ you want to live? O you noble Stoics, what deceptive words these are! Imagine a being like nature, wasteful beyond measure, indifferent beyond measure, without purposes and consideration, without mercy and justice, fertile and desolate and uncertain at the same time; imagine indifference itself as a power – how could you live according to this indifference? Living – is that not precisely wanting to be other than this nature? Is not living – estimating, preferring, being unjust, being limited, wanting to be different? And supposing your imperative ‘live according to nature’ meant at bottom as much as ’live according to life’ – how could you not do that? Why make a principle of what you yourselves are and must be?’ ’Beyond Good and Evil’ by Nietzsche

    ‘It may be beneficial to consider what is often called ‘mental anguish,’ to ensure that the purely ‘painful’ elements do not distract from the analysis. A young man suffers because of the death of his bride of only 8 months. His grief is terrible because he loved her passionately; and so he suffers. Yet, if he was asked: do you wish to be relieved of you grief? he might hesitate. If it were possible for a laser to burn out of his brain precisely those cells which retained his memory of her, he might well refuse to submit to this therapy. The enormity of his grief, he may realize, simply is due to the enormity of his love. Had he not loved so much then, he would not grieve so much now. He may wish he could go back in time, or that she had not died, but even in his extremity he realizes the futility of such thinking. Thus, although he may bitterly resent his need to suffer and grieve, he would not opt to grieve at her death, for that would mean her death did not matter. Thus some kinds of suffering, such as grief, cannot be foresworn without the forfeiture of something so precious that the suffering demands acceptance.’ ‘Truth and Existence’ by Michael Gelven

    ‘If Machiavelli is right, if it is in principle impossible to be morally good and do one’s duty as this was conceived by common European, and especially Christian ethics, and at the same time build Sparta or even Periclean Athens or the Rome of the Republic or even of the Antonines. Then a conclusion of the first consequence follows: that the belief that the correct, objectively valid solution to the question of how men should live can in principle be discovered, is itself in principle not true… The idea of the world and of human society as a single intelligible structure is at the root of all the many various versions of natural law – the mathematical harmonies of the Pythagoreans, the logical ladder of Platonic Forms, the genetic-logical pattern of Aristotle, the divine Logos of the Stoics and the Christian Churches and of their secularised offshoots. The advance of the natural sciences generated more empirically conceived versions of this image as well as anthropomorphic similes: of Dame Nature as an adjuster of conflicting tendencies (as in Hume or Adam Smith), of Mistress Nature as the best way to happiness (as in the works of some French Encyclopaedists) … This unifying monistic pattern is at the very heart of traditional rationalism, religious and atheistic, metaphysical and scientific, transcendental and naturalistic, that has been characteristic of Western civilization. It is the rock, upon which Western beliefs and lives have been founded, that Machiavelli seems, in effect, to have split open. So great a reversal cannot, of course, be due to the acts of a single individual. It could scarcely have taken place in a stable social and moral order; many beside him, medieval nominalists and secularists , Renaissance humanists doubtless supplied their share of the dynamite…. it was Machiavelli who lit the fatal fuse. ’The Originality of Machiavelli’ in Against the Current by Isaiah Berlin

    Stoicism may be useful as a secularised version of the Protestant work ethic but without its metaphysical justifications it seem little different from nihilism to me.

  125. Great article. Funny thing is, we were talking about Stoic philosophy before this post came along.

    I have very little time ATM so I will comment only on living the misfortune part for the moment: I wholeheartedly agree with ths idea, I actually went out of my way to practice the misfortune (temporarily left my luxury downtown residence to live in a horrible trailer in the ghetto) and it has helped tremendously to overcome the comfort trap. Not to mention it gave me the motivation and energy to make progress with my business startup and get back into serious networking. It allowed me to break free of stagnation, lethargy an anxiety caused by comfort. Of course it doesn't have to be so extreme for everyone, but it was necessary for me, and it worked for me. Now I know I can survive anything and the thorns on the path are not going to stop me from getting where I want to be.

    I recommend reading moer quotes from Marcus Aurelius an Seneca for more insights 🙂

  126. I see substantial parallels between Stoicism and philosophical Taoism. Both focus on accepting what is, trying to understand the underlying reality of life and the world, and how to best make one's way in the world.

  127. AWESOME…once again, I applaud you and your efforts to share with the world the principals of your lifestyle. I am doing my best to implement as many of the suggestions as possible; having written three books myslef, I would love for sales to rise enough for me to have an automated lifestyle and allow me the freedoms you experience. I will keep you posted on my progress.

    Thank you.

  128. Just watched the Ted talk you did awhile back. If you haven't come across Dr. Montessori's genius work regarding education, I encourage you to pick up The Absorbent Mind. She developed a method to support effortless reading and writing. You might find it useful in your quest to understand the components of functional educational system. She did it all from an analytical, scientific, and compassionate place that is rare (perhaps Jane Goodall is a fair comparison). Cheers, Rebecca

  129. Seems that we've entered a time of 'potpourri' philosophy. It's a wonder if a person can call themselves a Stoic or Buddhist or Utilitarian if they're only taking certain aspects of those belief systems. That being said, following the philosophy of The Enchiridion would certainly land you closer to a life of zen.

  130. Tim,

    Thanks for bringing this back to mind. I read Marcus Aurelius in college (a long time ago) and remember being struck by his view of the relatedness of all people. In a practical sense, he gave much the same guidance as might be found in Christian philosophy, albeit for different reasons.

    From the quote above:

    “The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil, which sounds a lot like “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”


    “…and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own–not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.” Since then I have understood, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” to imply that in some sense, your neighbor IS yourself: you share the human condition (the same mind) and share a bit of the divine spark.

    I find it's easier to deal with difficult people and situations when I remember that ultimately, we are all doing the best we can and we are all connected.


  131. Hi Tim,

    We met at El Rio last Saturday. I took your advice and googled your friend Kevin and happened upon you. It was nice meeting you that night. Thanks for showing us your Michael Jackson moves!


    PS My friend didn't break his foot!

  132. Awesome-I log onto this site for the first time, and lo!-you have included a picture of the St. Francisville Inn Bed and Breakfast at the Wolf-Schlesinger House on the front page! Wow-that's reaffirming. Hope you enjoyed my hometown, if only briefly!

  133. I also recomend: Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life [Paperback]
    By: A. A. Long and Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot (Reprint ed.) [Paperback]
    By: Jim Stockdale

  134. Good posting Tim. So Seneca's your man? I like Marcus Aurelius, and a colleague pointed out to me that Epictetus lies at the source of Albert Ellis' ground-breaking work (see A Guide to Rational Living) that led to Cognitive Behavioral therapy. Ryan does a nice job of showing how the Stoics were able to put philosophy to work and actually do exercises that break you free of your mental junk. Many people these days are in a mental funk with the economy down–these thought experiments are good for giving yourself a mental tuneup and getting re-centered on your own power.

    “What then is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.” Epictetus, Discourses

  135. Thank you so much for writing about this. A long while ago I'd found pop self help sorely lacking (just think positively!! Why? Just because!!), so I turned to the philosophers for some REAL examination on how we should live life and why, so thanks for a) turning me on to the Stoics, which I hadn't thought of looking into, and b) for speaking to us like adults. 😉

  136. I'll take a crack.

    I will rephrase the question to be, “Can a philosopher remain happy despite torture?”

    The stoic James Stockdale, USN (1923 – 2005) answers yes.

    From “The Stoic Warrior's Triad”:

    “In a crucible like a torture prison, you reflect, you silently study what makes those about you tick. Once I had taken the measure of my torture guard, watched his eyes as he worked, watched him move,felt him move as he stood on my slumped-over back and cinched up the ropes pulling my shoulders together, I came to know that there was good in him. That was ironic because when he first came in with the new commissar when torture was instigated after I got there, I had nicknamed him “Pigeye” becauseof the total vacancy of the stare of the one eye he presented as he peeked through cell door peepholes. He was my age, balding and wiry, quick, lithe and strong, like an athletic trainer. He was totally emotionless, thus his emotionless eyes. He had almost no English-language capability, just motions and grunts. Under orders, he put me through the ropes 15 times over the years, and rebroke my bad leg once, I feel sure inadvertently. It was a court martial scene and he was having to give me the ropes before a board of North Vietnamese officers. The officers sat at a long table before Pigeye and me, and behind us was a semi-circle of soldiers bearing rifles with fixed bayonets at a kind of “dangle” position, the bayonet pointing at the cement floor ahead of them. This was in the “knobby” torture room of “New Guy Village” at Hoa Lo prison in August 1967-so-called because the walls had been crudely speckled with blobs of cement the size of an ice cream scoop in a “soundproofing” attempt. I could tell Pigeye was nervous because of these officers whom I had never seen before, and I don't think he had, and he pressed me flat over my bad leg instead of the good one he had always put the tension on before. The healing knee cartilage gave way with a loud “pop,” and the officers looked at each other and then got up and left. I couldn't get off that floor and onto my feet for nearly two months. In all those years, we probably had no more than 24 hours, one-on-one together. But neither of us ever broke the code of an unvaryingly strict “line of duty” relationship. He never tricked me, always played it straight, and I begged no mercy. I admired that in him, and I could tell he did in me. And when people say: “He was a torturer, didn't you hate him?” I say, like Solzehnitsyn, to the astonishment of,those about me, “No, he was a good soldier, never overstepped his line of duty.” By that time, I had learned that fear and guilt are the real pincers that break men's wills. I would chant under my breath as I was marched to interrogation, knowing that I must refuse to comply, and take the ropes: “Your eyes must show no fear; they must show no guilt.” The North Vietnamese had learned never to take a prisoner “downtown”-to the payoff for what our
    whole treatment regime was about-public propaganda exploitation-unless he was truly intimidated, unless they were sure he felt fear. Their threats had no meaning unless you felt fear. They had suffered the political damage of several, including myself, who had acted up, spoken up, and blurted out the truth to the hand-picked audience of foreigners at the press conference. Book IV of Discourses: “When a man who has set his will neither on dying nor upon living at any cost, comes into the presence of the tyrant, what is there to prevent him from being without fear? Nothing.”

  137. Augustine said long ago that in the great poets and philosophers of pagan antiquity he found many things that are noble and beautiful, but not among them all could he find “Come unto Me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

  138. My field is in relationships – romantic relationships – and though this article seems in the realm of thought, intellect, brain power, using your mental abilities, and about business, it totally resonates with me on an emotional level. When my fears come up – nightmare flashes, triggered old stuff – I “sink in” (learned this from Rori Raye). I do my best to notice my resistance to the thing that scares me and to sink into the fear, accepting it, and then it dissolves the block – that frozen moment where I’m more focused on my fear than on what I was doing before that felt good. It’s so helped my productivity, and makes it so much easier (like the historical “coffin” exercise you mention) – to live among my fears instead of always in opposition to them. Being an entrepreneur is thrilling, and with it comes all the old garbage. Seeing everything as an opportunity is the key to everything, for me, and thank you for this post. Sincerely, Sarah

  139. Tim – just want to let you know that the main article content does not display with a white background (rather, the overall dark gray site background is shown). The light gray text on dark gray background makes it a bit tough to read – I’m using Google Chrome.

    Other than that, thanks again for all you do. You’re an inspiration to many

  140. Tim,

    I thought entrepreneurs were supposed to be optimists—glass half full people.

    Stoicism seems so pessimistic—- glass at least half empty.

    Can anyone explain?

  141. What a great blog article!

    It takes Philosophy out of the ‘pure mind-games’ field to a very important application: How to live your life? I greatly appreciate the work the authors have put into this article!

    Thank you,


  142. Killer article! I always love to see people with intellect realize that practicality still matters. If I could even keep one of those ideas in mind at all time I would cause myself much less stress.



  143. Tim,

    Stoicism seems interesting…I’d be curious if you’ve read much on Taoism, as it seems a touch more poetic, but delivers the message all the same. Life is about balance, remembering that good and bad compliment each other, that beauty can’t exist without ugliness. It’s about recognizing that you can never be in balance, but you are always striving for it.

    Stay credibly and be well,


  144. Just bought Epictetus’ “Enchiridion” and then stumbled on this, what a coincidence. I started wondering if his suffering made him see life in this fashion, and a monotheist in his day, go figure! It’s a great pleasure to read him.

    Fantastic link to Pierre Hadot. Indeed, “spiritual” has too many meanings and is too trite at this point, but he clears it up well, and I appreciate his approach.

    Thanks for covering all sort of things about life, Tim.

  145. Hi Tim

    I love this piece and it reminds me of something I read in a piece on Taoism.

    Remember to be like water. For there is nothing greater and survival is impossible without it, but water always returns to the lowest point it possibly can.

  146. When I first saw this article I was really interested, but I have to say I have been disappointed by it. To me it seems a little vague and contradictory.

    For example, if someone dies you should just think ‘someone has died,’ not that it is good or bad. But if we really tried to stamp out labeling things as being good or bad we would just end up as emotionless robots, and that is surely not what we want.

    I dont know, it just seems confusing to me.

  147. I found this post very useful as it addressed a lot of issues I’ve been dealing with in my own businesses. I’m really excited about this approach because it seems to most situations into pre-created/pre-planned lines of action. No need to spend time trying to figure out the same things many greater people before us have already took to solving. I can feel myself becoming more productive already! Best.

  148. Stoicism sounds the same as Buddhism, Eckhart Tolle, parts of the Bible, and things my Grandma taught me about life. Why do I have to join a fancy club of Stoics and entrepenuers just to live life with some common sense. Elevating this and writing an article about it, feeling like you’ve discovered something unique and cool that is going to make you elite, seems to me the opposite of Stoicism. Who cares if it helps your business? Business is all dust. This is about your soul.

  149. In episode 3 of “Random” you describe Seneca’s writing as being a response to a problem situation posed. Here’s my problem situation (and I’m looking for as much constructive feedback as possible). Thanks so much in advance to you and all of your readers.

    I was laid off of my job at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in February. I worked in M&PR. I’d like never to work another desk job as long as I live.

    So, in addition to having worked a couple of years in an office, I have a B.A. in Communications from Temple University (with a minor in Photography) and some experience working for smaller galleries and other non-profit organizations.

    I want to travel and work as many odd jobs as possible so that I can meet as many people as possible along the way. College has left me with $50,000 of combined credit card and student loan debt, though I’ve got plenty of unemployment to pay off bills for the next 7 months.

    What do I do???? What would someone out there do if they had over half of year of “funemployment” coming to them?

    Thanks again!


  150. I found an author, Adam Miller, who has really interesting insights on Stoic thinker, Epictetus involving non-theistic centered grace and happiness. In this article he proposes, among other things, how Epictetus enumerates how it depends on what is and is not in our control and perception. Find it here: I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts/responses to his article or the subject here, or at my blog, especially about kenotic decentering:

    Cheers Tim for broaching life-changing purviews.


  151. “Success is very ephemeral. You depend entirely on the desire of others, which makes it difficult to relax.” -Eva Green

    Hey Ryan and Tim,

    Life is simple – events are ephemeral.

    By remembering that events throughout the day are comparatively small to the rest of the world and history (and maybe universe?), you can maintain a healthy perspective to just enjoy life and live in the present moment. No need to worry or concern yourself too much over stuff.

    This isn’t to say that everything that happens in your life is meaningless and unimportant. Rather, by realizing that events around you are ultimately small, you stop being absorbed by them, gain control of your life, and can consciously focus on what’s really important to you – what makes you happy, not what “should” be important (ex. awards, status, figures).

    Nice read on Stoicism. Great reminder to keep things in perspective and be appreciative of what we do have,


  152. Great, practical advice. Tried and tested for over 2000 years, yet how relevant it remains: keep a sense of perspective, and don’t get into the habit of fearing fear itself. Face a fear head on and you’ll realise you can, more often than not, cope. Then you can get on with something more productive!

    Thanks for an engaging and educational write-up.

  153. I’d like to know your thoughts on John Stossel, a Princeton grad. He debunks myths all the time and I think if you two could speak to each other it would be interesting.

  154. Tim, I wanted to bring in a nice parallel to this post:

    In tantric yoga we have this lovely idea which is impossible until you do it and then is impossible not to do: there is no happiness and no fulfillment in any object or relationship in the world. Use that which is of the world as a lens if you wish; delight in the material but do not dwell in it. Or as the Bhagavad Gita gives it: act with skill and without attachment to the fruits of your actions.

  155. Mi nombre es natta haotzima hua ling, hola.

    Hoy es mi cumpleaños (1ro de Marzo) y estoy a punto de poner el betun de chocolate a mi pastel 🙂

    Estoy muy conmovida con usted Mr. Timothy Ferrrrrrrris (tiene un nombre especial) y con todos sus articulos, consejos, videos…

    Este articulo en especial, es algo de fantastiko y supra-especial, un muy buen regalo de cumpleaños. Usted me ha inspirado mucho y estoy agradecida.

    Voy a seguir en contacto.

    Con respeto y admiracion


  156. Tim,

    Leave it to you to make the connection between an ancient Hellenistic philosophy and entrepreneurship! But after thinking about it, it really does make sense that a philosophy that worked for emperors and statesmen like Marcus Aurelius and Senenca, with the unpredictability and stress of running ancient nations, could be appropriate for running start up companies, without getting sucked into the vortex!

    I think you should add William Irvine’s “Guide to the Good Life” to your reading list. As others have mentioned, he really does a good job of “re-animating” Stoicism for modern life. It really brought it home for me.

    One criticism that has been made of Stoicism is that in some ways it is TOO accepting of failure. Irvine points out that by emphasizing how little is withing our control or “sphere of choice”, the Stoics tended to internalize their goals. So they end up being satisfied by doing their best job, even if they fail to achieve an external objective. All they care about is fighting the good fight.

    For this reason, I think Stocism does not quite deliver the goods for serious entrepreneurs. It’s great to have the laid back attitude to a point, but you can’t survive in business if you are always accepting second (or third) best. That is why I think that Hormetism, another updated version of Stoicism, is more appealing than Irvine’s version. Hormetism has the same view about being detached, but emphasizes the need to continually train oneself to improve your chances of actually succeeding. There is some good recent stuff about this on the web.


  157. Jared

    Thanks for the heads up on Hormetism,I found the following description:

    “Hormetism vs. Stoicism. Hormetism and Stoicism both share an appreciation of the value of adversity in building character and in immunizing oneself against the distracting pull of appetites and emotions, leading to an increase in self-control and the freedom to pursue the good.

    Where Hormetism and Stocism part ways, I think, is in their view of externals. The Stoic focus on “internals” and a circumscribed “sphere of choice” looks to me like an abdication of responsibility and commitment to making positive changes in the world — including the changes to society and to oneself. While, on the face of it, Stoics seems to embrace social and personal responsibility, on looking closer, they see engagement with externals only as a way to test oneself or prove ones character. The actual outcome seems not to matter very much.

    I just cannot imagine that an emperor like Marcus Aurelius or a statesman like Seneca — much less the coach of a major league football team — would be satisfied and “rest easy” knowing that he had “done what he could do”. The view that a sincere effort is good enough, and that the actual outcome does not matter, is not a recipe for success. Some external goals are worth going all out to achieve, and some are so important that the fate of a life, an organization, or a country, depend upon them. “

  158. Great post always inspiring and practical!

    Marcus Aurelius… recommend to anyone to take time and understand this way of thinking with an open mind. You will be truly blessed

  159. Tim,

    Ive studied self help, philosophy, etc, since I was 17, I am now 22. I can say that after read this post, Ive gained more understanding and truth than all my reading from the past 5 years.

    thank you


  160. I really like the idea of rehearsing worst case scenario. I just finished a psychiatry module where we learnt about the treatment of social anxiety in cognitive behavioural therapy. Here the treatment for someone with social anxiety is a progressive ladder of practising the worst case scenarios. from sitting and imagining social interaction as step one, and the last step is walking around in public skipping or singing. One therapist would have their client walk on to a busy bus at rush our with a hand full of pennies and small change, and instead of dropping in the coin slot, the client had to drop them on the floor.The potential for creative activities is endless and apparently there is an oxford book of them, another is walking around with a banana on a leash.

  161. How Buddhist concepts parallel and surpass Stoicism for practical achievement – food for thought. [future post ideas?]

    Seeing is action. Maybe these concepts can help change how we see our world and ourselves. [hope this isn’t too formal and sermon-like. Btw, Ryan & Tim, very thought provoking, fantastic post b/c I’m Buddhist and everything written strongly resonates with my reality and life accomplishments. A rare thing. Tx.]

    1) ephemeral = “Impermanence”

    2) practicing misfortune and perception management are both detached reframing for opportunity. What’s missing? Fluid desires and understanding “Non-self”.

    3) “Unsatisfactoriness”, for detached and fluid action – happiness is momentary not lasting.

    Common ground: *Impermanence (of physical forms, perception, thought, feeling, consciousness) is the singular bedrock concept of the Buddhist nature of reality. Two more follow (Non-self, Unsatisfactoriness). All 3 are intertwined in a complex cycle called “Dependent Origination” – a fragment of which coarsely parallels CBT trigger-interpretation-response theory. While choices are (hopefully, mostly) in our control, nothing else is.

    Ryan had 2 brilliant tips: take bigger risks by actively embracing the worst outcomes and secondly, to reframe adversity into opportunity. Both require cultivating a dispassionate, detached perspective. How to do this specifically? And how can Buddhism uniquely help?

    When you reframe a situation from bad to good it really shows how our desires are very fluid. We choose what we want over time. According to Buddhism, many aspects of ourselves are changing over time – see *. Applying Impermanence to the individual, the concept of **Nonself roughly means that a person is a composite mixture of dynamic processes without a discrete, static essence (core-less onion vs peach). So what? Ever have something/someone stop being as cool/meaningful or fun as it/they used to be? Well, you can get what you want but it won’t be a lasting satisfaction. It won’t really make you “happy”. Why? Even if it’s the same, you’re changing – constantly. Leverage that in “bad” situations. If you can’t change that something, then change yourself. Find a desirable possibility in anything and I think you’re on your way to an attitude of abundance. Very useful.

    *** Unsatisfactoriness: lasting happiness isn’t possible. What you think you want won’t really be very satisfying even if you get it because of * and ** – either it will change or you will, likely both. Sure, a desire and outcome might match up for awhile. It won’t last. Nothing does. Enjoy it more for that truth. Seek momentary happiness but know it for what it is or torture yourself chasing shadows and illusions.

    Summary: if everything is dynamic where the good can be lost, the bad can be gained, we inevitably change our minds about both, making happiness come and go, all we can do is choose wisely.

  162. Hmm… I’ll have to come back to this once in a while, it’s not ready to sink in yet, but I can see how there’s value in at least embracing part of stoicism.

    But I am questioning how it could be applied to situations/problems/personality issues that I do already face. For instance, I get jealous. Jealousy brings with it the sensation of no control, loss, fear, resentment, and depression.

    Since I don’t know how you could eliminate that through exposure, that leaves trying to turn it upside down.

    Who knows, someday I may be able to turn it into a strength, like it’s similar emotion, Envy. Where Jealousy is the fear of loss of something to another person, Envy is the desire to gain what another person has. Typically it comes with resentment, anger, etc… It’s considered a negative thing because most people get that set of emotions with it, which leads them to be negative. Sabotaging, bitter pricks.

    I can’t tell you when because it was a long time ago, and I don’t know how it happened… But, Envy became a strength instead of a weakness for me. It stopped carrying the usual negatives and brings a sense of curiosity, desire, excitement, and elicits thinking big.

    This is because I don’t feel envy as “Look at that jerk, why should he have XXX when I can’t?!” and instead see it as “Hey, look at what that jerk has!” (In a playful, chiding way.) “Hmm… So that’s something I want. Now how could I get it?”

    Stoicism or no; how you perceive things, and how you react to them will always make the difference in what action you take. That in turn, will decide what results you can get.

  163. Typo: “Though my preferred Stoic writer, Lucius Seneca, I’ve found it to be a simple and immensely practical set of rules for better results with less effort.”

    –> “Though” should be corrected to “through.”

    Otherwise, awesome post. Thanks Tim.

  164. This is very interesting. I find this perspective on not becoming a ‘slave’ to a personal endeavor intriguing. I find myself, after reading this, subconsciously practicing most of the aforementioned routines. I find that in my personal life it is not a matter of being alone more so than it is you just have to let people go. When an individual does not want to communicate or it becomes a problem or an obstacle as you put it. I think that it could become an opportunity, but you have to know how to handle an ordeal. I am the type of individual where I just tend to ignore affliction. You cannot coerce anything. Keep calm & carry on. I definitely apply most of these practices to my lifestyle. I just never coined a term for it. I choose to live.

  165. “Show me a man who isn’t a slave; one who is a slave to sex, another to money, another to ambition; all are slaves to hope or fear. I could show you a man who has been a Consul who is a slave to his ‘little old woman’, a millionaire who is the slave of a little girl in domestic service. And there is no state of slavery more disgraceful than one which is self-imposed.”

    Do you not see the “Entrepreneurial Life” as a self-imposed slavery to money/ambition/hope/success?

    More intellectual ransacking of our cultural past by the corportate world.

  166. For more information on Stoicism there is an on-line community at I would recommend reading the Stoic handbook that provides a very good overview of the philosophy including history and relevancy for us in the 21st century as well as some advise on how to apply it in your daily life

  167. Three all-encompassing principles:

    1. non-attachment (i.e., you are not your job title, you are not your possessions, you are more than your relationship, etc.)

    2. non-judgement (who is really able to say what is “good” or “bad” especially while it is happening?)

    3. non-persistence (“this too shall pass” attitude raises the “lows” and tempers the “highs”)

  168. do women have a harder time being stoic? Is it something in our biology? hormones? experiences? conditioning? i wish it wasn’t so, i put on such a good game face but ppl say i’m being cold or a b*tch, which i’m not…

    rough crowd, rough crowd…

    1. Hey AB ….

      Nope, gender experience not to come into it. (I suggest).

      A punch on the nose is a punch on the nose whtvr your gender.

      A rough ride is a rough ride for all. Most attracted to Stoic antedotes via “rough rides.” Trick is ( I find): to make a list of the all the likely negative stuff perverse Fortune can send you and write down in advance your objective response for as and when a relative experience occurs. Nullify and move on. (Plus some considering/meditating on the teachings to assist the learning curve …) (I suggest).

      bw: j

    2. I happen to share the same questioning. Why are there fewer women attracted to or shown in active dialogue of stoicism? Is it due to less exposure? I’ve read anecdotes and references to Porcia/Portia, Brutus’ wife being stoic, but nothing much beyond that.

      One anecdote I heard while living in Senegal for six months back in 2004 was this expression of “letting the water boil on the stove,” which meant that, for women, the main household chefs, in cases of extreme poverty with no food to eat, could find solace in this proverb and expression in that they would literally boil water in a pot on the fire to keep up the appearance of food in the household while they silently suffered (not drawing attention to themselves or their household’s condition) through until there would be enough food again. The expression in modern times is used quite often as well, but to describe hardships beyond hunger and poverty, and seems quite similar to my novice understanding of stoicism.

      I do agree that stoicism isn’t taught or read with gender in mind, but the current lack of female contributors provides an interesting perspective and opportunity nonetheless.

  169. Surely the teachings of Zena and his offprings and such of Jesus (the Man) complement each other … and reading* some of both each day help to break through those barriers and help the new Sage on his way ….

    * And acting out ….

    I’m 78 and this new road to take is going to be fun (and therapeutic) … if it aint no point in the trek …. Momma said it aint going to be easy …. why not? Let’s go …. It aint that heavy if you transalte into 2011speke …

  170. Wow, I’ve been slowly adding these principles to my life over a large part of my life since I started really focusing on “becoming a better person”… but had no idea that my own principles and philosophies actually had a name!

    So, I guess I can call myself a Stoic then 🙂

    I can say with personal experience that living this kind of life makes you a much, MUCH happier… healthier… wealthier and just better person all around.

    Jeremy Reeves

  171. Thanks! Reading Taoist and Buddhist texts brought me to similar approach. What worked in Rome, worked in China, and India, and still works today.

  172. For Tim and anyone else who who might be interested, I came across a truely great book exploring the practice of Stoic philosophy in a modern sense. It is called “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B. Irvine.

    I highly recommend it as a thoughful exploration of the topic from a modern practitioner.

  173. Tim,

    Thanks for being the man. Your work has added a truckload of value to my life.

    I’ve got a deeper psychology/philosophy question related to this post that I’ve been researching/mulling over for a couple weeks now and it would make my month to hear your thoughts:

    Once you’re aware of the possibilities of maximizing life results by doing the most important thing in the moment, and you’re also aware of the shortness of life, how do you appropriately manage the fear/anxiety of NOT doing the best thing all the time and losing out on potential results for your time? The awareness that right now, you’d better be doing the best thing, or you’re losing out on potential value?

    Because then everything becomes a “have to” and not a “want to”, which usually tarnishes (if not destroys) its value and the quality of experience of achieving it. But if you only “wanted to” do the best thing right now, you could be getting those greater results!

    Or, in a more general scope:

    Excluding physical danger, in what situations is fear/anxiety an appropriate and useful reaction? When should it be ignored?

    If I have a looming deadline with permanent irreversible consequences, I’d better have a little fear to at least put it on my radar so I don’t decide to blow time I don’t have. On the other hand, a constant anxiety if I’m not doing the best thing is certainly not healthy. Where’s the balance? Am I even seeing this from the right perspective?

    Rock on,


  174. LOVE the way you weave Stoicism into the entrepreneurial spirit topic and find these topics really intriguing!

    Broken link was found for “Kayne West’s blog”, best fix for a better read for the next fella!

  175. Hey there! I’ve been reading your weblog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from New Caney Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the good job!

  176. Amazing! This blog looks exactly like my old one!

    It’s on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Wonderful choice of colors!

  177. >Epictetus endured the horrors of slavery

    I don’t know where you get this from but it isn’t true. Slavery back in Epictetus’ day was normal. The father was the the first master, his children the first slaves. Slavery wasn’t invented but developed naturally out of the family. Out of the family slavery as a societal institution grew. Afterwards it was regulated. You don’t see Epictetus talking about the horrific experience of slavery because it wasn’t – it was normal. You don’t see Aristotle finding fault with slavery, or Horace, or Diogenes the Cynic, or any ancient. It was a fact of life. Of course there were cruel masters just like there are cruel parents, etc., etc., but slavery was part of the ancient world.

  178. Those of you who are attracted to Stoicism as a guide for living in today’s world would profit enormously from a recent book called PRAGMATIC RATIONALISM: AN INTRODUCTION by Frank Robert Vivelo (available from and other online booksellers). It combines Stoicism, Epicureanism, Empiricism, and Existentialism into a startlingly coherent, practical philosophy for achieving a rewarding, satisfying life. Anyone who actually adopts the principles and perspectives presented in this book will find their lives less troubled and more pleasant than ever before. Its unique definition of “happiness,” which owes a lot to the two Hellenistic schools of Stoicism and Epicureanism, and its strategies for pursuing it are bound to change—and improve—your outlook and your day-to-day behavior. It is by far the best book on practical philosophy that I’ve ever encountered.

  179. Begin to acknowledge the nature of reality is much like a

    dream. It alsdo give you “signs” on what to look out for.

    In Aliens, as Ellen Ripley battles corporate

    greed she develops an increasing kinship toward the aliens.

  180. Tim – I love almost all of your work and you are a huge inspiration. For some reason my bullshit radar goes flying with Ryan Holiday.

  181. Great post and worth revisiting even after a few years. Thank you! I was fortunate to have studied philosophy at university and found the Stoics particularly useful subsequently to help deal with much of the BS prevalent in IB. B-). In addition to what you talk about in the blog, my favourite ideas expressed by Marcus Aurelius continue to be of value in an entrepreneurial context and centre around the fact that the only control which we can exert is over ourselves (our reasoning and our actions) and that our (mistaken) lingering after things outside our control is a major component of our dissatisfaction: “There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you, Leave them alone.” ( VI,52) and “Nothing outside the mind can disturb it – trouble comes from the mind’s opinion of what lies outside it” (IV, 3). So…if Google hasn’t yet bought your start-up for $100m+ then don’t despair, whether you are happy or not is entirely up to you!

  182. I’ve a forex system that is risk free. Meaning I’ll not lose but in recent spate the drawdown has been significant and I close because of what if. Eventually the system supposed to win if I hadn’t close.

    Question how to use stoicism in trading where the barriers of emotions doesn’t get injected into the system.

    I’m a small ball guy. I have fear as huge as a mountain yet wishes to travel the world before I kick the bucket. Help me.


    David A.

  183. I was a natural stoic through college until I got sick. I felt lousy most of my waking day and wanted to understand suffering from a Christian perspective. In one sermon, Tim Keller talked about how the stoic’s advice for someone hurting is to buck up- you’re only depressed because you expect to be prospering. A Christian however is able to meet that person in their suffering without dismissing it. Keller later wrote this, “Because Christianity gives us an assured hope that we will have infinitely greater and unending love relationships (with God first and foremost but with others too), this gives us not only a greater basis for hope, but it also gives greater room to express our sorrow. We don’t have to detach our hearts from loved ones the way the ancient and modern stoics have done in order to protect themselves emotionally from the hopelessness of death.”

    1. Tim Keller sounds like someone who goes around slandering people through generalized categories. The stoic’s advice for someone hurting is to “buck up”? What’s the reference? Which stoic said, “Someone hurting should buck up”?

      Later, Tim Keller is quoted as saying, “Christianity gives us an assured hope that we will have infinitely greater and unending love relationships.” One problem with that assertion is that it is baseless. Christianity doesn’t give me any such hope at all. Sure, some people within “christianity” have composed elaborate stories about heaven but they’re just stories. One may establish for themselves some wavering amount of hope by narrowly focusing on “heaven” stories combined with a blind belief in their authority. But there is a far greater number of ridiculous stories about the universe being created in seven days, ritual slaughters of “enemies” (much of the old testament), ridiculous prohibitions (“Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” [Leviticus 19:19], “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.” [Leviticus] 19:27), etc.

      Furthermore, people within “christianity” have tortured “witches”; tortured non-christians to try to force them to convert; sexually abused children; and prioritized defending the institution in the face of accusations of sexual abuse of children over admitting the truth and taking care of the victims. So christianity is not unquestionably authoritative. The presence of some stories about heaven does not give “assured hope” at all. Defining chrisitanity as something that gives us hope because of “heaven” stories is reductive and requires steadfast ignorance of the broader details.

      Later, Tim Keller is quoted as saying, “(…) detach our hearts from loved ones the way the ancient and modern stoics have done (…)”. Again, the reference? Which stoic has done that?

      Either Tim Keller actually knows nothing about stoic philosophy or he is KNOWINGLY slandering a whole field of thought just because it is OTHER, i.e., it is not christianity.

  184. Excellent read! What immediately strikes me is the similarity between stoicism and non-dualism (advaita) /, and the ending of “suffering”. Ref. Sam Harris and Tara Brach.

  185. It’s interesting: this post is over six years old and there is at least one mistake (and most likely two) in the introduction.

    #1) The initial quote from Seneca is as follows: “There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living; there is nothing harder to learn.”

    Are you sure that is a correct translation? Consider just the first part of the sentence (“There is nothing the busy man is less busied with than living”). Now consider a busy man. If there is anything that the busy person is NOT doing (let’s say, eating bark off trees), then that the person is NOT busied by that thing: eating tree bark is not busying that person because he is not doing it. Now, if the person is busied by living to any degree, then eating tree bark is busying him less than living. This would contradict the first part of the quote. According to the quote, a busy person is defined as someone who is busied with literally everything, including “living”, and “living” is the thing that busies him the least. Really? It seems similar to people who say, “I could care less.”

    So, what does the first part of the quote have to do with the second part of the quote?

    #2) Later on, there is a sentence that begins with, “Though my preferred Stoic writer (…)” Presumably, that should be “through”, not “though”.

  186. I have a question for anyone reading. Buddhism and Stoicism (and probably other schools of thought) preach a path to perfect neutrality. I am having difficulty trying to balance ambition and trying to become consistent and neutral. It seems to me a sage in the stoic sense or someone who has attained enlightenment in the Buddhist sense, would not have any ambition. I am in a constant battle with myself over this, one half focused on acting on ambition and the other saying ambition, in itself, is a manifestation of attachment and insecurity. Does anyone have any thoughts or references to help the debate for either side?

  187. Dear Tim –

    On Being Small

    Check out this photo. It was taken on 2013-07-19.

    It is how we shine bright and stay small.

    The photo is the earth and her moon on The Day The Earth Smiled.

    A woman scientist spread the word that our planet was going to be photographed from space (Jupiter mission). She encouraged everyone to step outside, gaze at the sky, and smile for the photo.

    People all over the planet, who couldn’t even see Jupiter at the time participated. Many acting as one.

    Just as our planet is big and bold and beautiful, just as our planet shines in the sky, it is simultaneously a small spec in an endless sky, so too are we big and bold and beautiful, accomplishing great and miraculous feats, shining brightly and simultaneously specs of stardust on a tiny planet wandering the universe.

    I think Entrepreneurs would be ok with that. What do you think?

    The woman’s name is Carolyn Porco,

    Thanks for this article. It was unenlightening, and by that, I mean to say, I think I have been a stoic all my life and just not realized it. 🙂

    – Michelle

    P.S. the URL isn’t mine, it’s NASA’s – hope that’s ok!

  188. I literally made an outline for 2016 objectives and the previous bullet point before Googling “Stoicism 101” was as follows.

    I. Perception Discovery

    a.Being able to mentally take a step back and become aware of other

    perceptions to best discern next step actions.

    b.Seek knowledge from both sides of an argument along with a relative real-time assessment of a current matter to critically think the best possible solution moving forward.

  189. Very practical tips. I was aware that perception can alter your reality but it is very interesting to hear early philosophy that seems to have roots in this.

  190. Thank you for sharing this beautiful Stoic insight! It’s so difficult to find approachable philosophical discussion online, these days. Massive Epictetus fan, here. I’m sharing the heck out of this piece because everyone should read it. Seventeen thumbs up for clarity!

  191. Like many, I normally scim. But with this, I dove in and devoured every word. Stoicism was an ancient version of Life Hacks that are still relevant today. It even begins to cross the blurred line that divides philosophy from metaphysics when it speaks to the divine inherent in us all.

    I had to scroll up and recheck to make sure that I remembered that Ryan Holiday is only 21 years old. This article is the articulation and insight of a learned scholar twice his age. And so I will address him with a suffix.

    Mr. Holiday, thank you very much.

    -Robb Edward Morris

  192. Just wanted to break the silence in over six years. Very interesting, glad you turned me on to Stoicism Tim. An acquaintance of mine also recommended me checking out Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.

  193. Tim,

    I would like to add something to the conversation about practitioners of stoicism.

    I believe that you be better served by looking at the actions of modern stoics who have truly put it to the test. A good example is Admiral Stockdale. He was a strong follower of Epictetus and after his retirement, he devoid the rest of his life to studying and teaching the works of Epictetus. As you may remember, the Admiral did 7 and 1/2 years in one of the worst Vietnam POW camp, and stated that it was a true understanding of Epictetus’ works that enabled him to survive when so many other brave military men and women perished in that camp.

    Comparing Ryan Holiday’s stress to the stress of what the Admiral went through for 7 1/2 years is like comparing the candle on birthday cake to a California wildfire.

    Years back when the Admiral was still alive, a book was written that consisted of interviews with various modern stoics who the author felt had truly put stoicism to the test. The chapter containing my interview was the one right before the Admirals. I have been a practicing stoic for 40+ years.

    After reading Ryan’s piece on stoicism all I can say is, with all due respect, his understanding of stoicism is a bit light.


    Mike Sekora

  194. “It doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world.” Actually it does – the ancient Stoics were really into metaphysics, semantics and a load of other stuff that’s been largely forgotten these days.

  195. Your podcast rock. I listen to this podcast today. Philosophy is a great tool but the guy who wrote spartan up, in my opinion was way better. I relate to Jocoh with the darkness and the light as well. Being relentless and listening to heavy metal are awesome ways of living a good life. As long as you use your head.

  196. As I read your post I could hear the faint whisper of those two lines from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If-” repeating in my head – “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…” Thanks for a great read, and for helping a frightened kid find his spine.

    All the Best,


  197. This kind of Stoic temperance is the need of the hour in today’s world. I am glad that such a literature exists in today’s day and age.

    What I’m concerned with is that the image of Stoics is that of an emotionless and dispassionate people — very cold, always concerned with misfortune and adversity, never smiling and always uptight.

    Thus, I have reservations regarding the above, besides that I’m all for Stoicism in our day and age.

  198. Mr Ferriss, and Mr Holiday,

    I just had to thank you so much for your heard work and effort to make such a great article and introducing me to Stoicism. Three months ago my life changed forever, I’ll save you the details but turning 40 was part of it. I’ve dedicated myself to becoming a master learner. This article is going to feed me for a very long while. But I need more. I need personal interaction. “Rulers to make myself straight” men who encourage, motivated and inspire others to real lasting change. More of those “Ah ha” moments.

    I have The Obstacle is the Way, and the Daily Stoic by Ryan, and you Tim have inspired me deeply with your battle to find balance, hunger for wisdom and how you seek out clarity and perspective. Keep up the good work. The deep work. Hopefully you are recovering nicely from the Silent retreat Tim. You are much loved my man. And Ryan, thank you for the Books!!! You both are in my “Tribe of Mentors.”

    Your Friend Nathan O’Neill

  199. I’ve been reading Seneca and Aurelius almost every morning for the last 8 months or so. It first helped when I was fired off my last job. The adversity turned into an opportunity and I’m in a better position now. The best thing is now that I’m doing well, I’m no more taking things for granted and preparing hard for an unexpected fall. Stoicism truly liberates you into a person who is ready for anything.

    Another stoic I was reminded of while I was reading this post was Gary Vaynerchuk. He is a practitioner.

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