Stoicism is defined as:

  • the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complain
  • an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium.  The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain. (source: Google)

You may think that a stoic is an unfeeling robot, which sounds a lot like me.  Stoics (and soon robots) have feelings, but strive to set them aside that when taking action.

I’m pre-disposed to like what I learned of the stoics both by my roboticism and views on the nature of the universe.  You may or may not be so inclined, but may find the compact practical principles from The Obstacle is the Way useful.  What follows are my favorite extracts from this book’s and stoic philosophy’s simple concepts to mind-bending questions.

Introduction

  • Whatever we face we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?
  • When you have a goal, obstacles are actually teaching you how to get where you want to go – carving you a path.  The things which hurt, instruct. – Benjamin Franklin
  • Bad companies are destroyed by crisis.  Good companies survive them.  Great companies are improved by them.  The same is true of great individuals.  They turn weakness intro strength.
  • The diagnosis is terminal for all of us.  A death sentence has been decreed.  Each second, probability is eating away at the chances we’ll be alive tomorrow; something is coming and you’ll never be able to stop it.  Be ready for when that day comes.
  • Advancing through obstacles has three critical steps: perception, action, and will.

Step 1 – Perception

  • Definition
    • How we see and understand what occurs around us – and what we decide those events will mean
    • Context: a sense of the larger picture of the world, not just what is immediately in front of us
    • Framing: an individual’s unique way of looking at the world, a way that interprets events
  • Perspective is everything.  When you break something apart, it loses its power over you.
  • Where the head goes, the body follows.  Perception precedes action.  Right action follows the right perspective.
  • Quotes / Stories
    • Choose note to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed.  Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.  – Marcus Aurelius
    • Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent.  Let me put you to the test. – Epictetus
    • Our problem is that we’re always trying to figure out what things mean – why things are the way they are.  As though the why really matters.  Emerson put it best: “We cannot spend the day in explanation.  Don’t waste time on false constructs.”  What matters is that right now is right now.  Remember that this moment is not your life, it’s just a moment in your life.

Step 2 – Action

  • Definition
    • The energy and creativity to break down problems and turn them into opportunity
  • People who become great at things start.  Anywhere.  Anyhow.  Despite the conditions.  If they can get momentum, they can make it work.  Courage at its most basic level is taking action.  Create momentum by getting up and getting started.
  • Those who attack problems and life with the most energy and initiative usually win.
  • When people are where we are, what we’re doing, how that “situation” is coming along, the answer is clear: We’re working on it.  We’re getting closer.  When setbacks come, we respond by working twice as hard.
  • What is the meaning of life?  The world is asking you this question.  It’s our job to answer with our actions.  Right action – unselfish, dedicated, masterful, creative.  That’s how to find meaning in life and turn obstacles into opportunities.
  • Quotes / Stories
    • We must all either wear out or rust out, every one us.  My choice is to wear out. – Theodore Roosevelt
    • Nick Saban: “Don’t think about the championship.  Think about what you need to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment.  Focus on the task at hand today.”  Follow the process.  Do what you need to do right now.  Do it well.  Move on to the next thing.
    • Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment.  – Viktor Frankl

Step 3 – Will

  • Definition
    • The cultivation and maintenance of an inner will to handle defeat and difficulty
  • Things will go wrong.  The only variable we control is ourselves.  Turn what we must do into what we get to do.
  • You must never lower yourself to being a person you don’t like.
  • We’re not special or unique simply by virtue of being.  We’re all the subject of random and often incomprehensible events.
  • Quotes / Stories
    • This too shall pass. – Lincoln
    • Thomas Edison tried 6000 different filaments to find a material for incandescent lights that would work.  He even tried beard hair.  What set Edison apart was the steady dedication with which he applied himself towards solving problems.
    • My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, in all eternity.  Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it. – Nietzsche
    • A man’s job is to make the world a better place to live in, so far as he is able – always remembering the results will be infinitesimal – and to attend to his own soul. – Leroy Percy

Conclusion

  • Some obstacles may be impossible to overcome.  We have to be the type of people who try to get things done, try with everything we’ve got and, whatever verdict comes in, are ready to accept it instantly and move on to whatever is next.
  • Life is a process of breaking through these impediments.  Each time, you’ll learn something.  Each time you’ll develop strengths, wisdom, perspective.  Each time, a little more of the competition falls aways.  Until all that is left is you: the best version of you.
  • Perception, action, will
    • First, see clearly.
    • Next, act correctly.
    • Finally, endure and accept the world as it is.
  • You can always remember that a decade earlier, a century earlier, a millennium earlier, someone just like you stood right where you are and felt very similar things, struggling with the same thoughts.  They had no idea that you would exist, but you know that they did.  And a century from now, someone will be in your exact same position, once more.