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The Daily Stoic is an original translation of selections from several Stoic philosophers, including Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and Zeno. It aims to provide lessons about personal growth, life management, and practicing mindfulness.
The Daily Stoic is intended to be read one page per day. Each page features a quote from a Stoic philosopher alongside Ryan Holiday’s commentary. It is organized temporally and thematically across the twelve months of the year.
Ryan Holiday’s Perspective
Ryan Holiday is an American marketer and author. Ryan dropped out of college at the age of 19 to apprentice under Robert Greene, the author of The 48 Laws of Power. Subsequently, Ryan became the marketing director for American apparel and found his own creative agency called Brass Check. Brass Check has been an advisor to companies, like Google, and authors, like Neil Strauss, Tony Robbins, and Tim Ferriss. In addition to this, Ryan is a media columnist and editor-at-large for the New York Observer. Ryan is the author of 10 books. Stillness is the Key has now sold over two million copies.
The Three Stoic Interests
Stoics were interested in only three aspects of philosophy: logic, physics, and ethics. In fact, they often used the analogy of the fertile field. Physics was the field itself, with all the laws governing its existence. Logic was the fence protecting the field from outsiders. Finally, ethics is the crop you produce.
The Three Stoic Disciplines
To extract as much as possible out of life, the Stoics were profoundly interested in mastering three disciplines. These disciplines were the discipline of perception, the discipline of action, and the discipline of will.
The discipline of perception was all about learning to see the world clearly. The discipline of action deals with the decisions and actions we take – and to what end we take them. Finally, attaining a discipline of will meant conquering your fears and doubts by accepting what you can’t change.
The Discipline of Perception
“The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. What we have influence over and what we do not.”– Ryan Holiday
In The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday breaks stoicism down into a month-by-month transformation path. In January, Ryan suggests you focus on clarity. During this time, you should aim to better understand and control the tools within your reach. In doing so, you can reclaim your personal power. This approach aligns with the Stoics’ idea that you cannot control a situation, but you can control what you think about it.
Controlling your personal responses will help you respond to the curveballs that the world will throw at you. Plus, it allows you to grow as an individual by controlling your daily habits and actions. You can make progress while others are complaining about the world.
Epictetus described clarity as the first moment you become a philosopher. Philosophy is about examining your preconceived notions and asking questions about your emotions and beliefs. Therefore, start your stoicism journey by considering all your weaknesses and the times when you have excelled. This honest self-reflection will allow you to identify areas of improvement. However, Ryan also recommends surrounding yourself with individuals who are willing to challenge you. He describes how the 18th-century economist, Adam Smith, called these people your ‘indifferent spectators’. This spectator could be you or those around you but must involve the sympathetic judgment of actions.
February (Passions and Emotions)
The advanced stage of clarity is starting to control your passions and emotions. Generally, people let their passions control them. Ryan Holiday describes switching this relationship round as a modern-day superpower. If you can control your passions and emotions, you can ponder deeply before you act. Thought is essential to all your perceptions, as nothing in the world is good or bad without the presence of thought.
To highlight the importance of not acting on emotions, Ryan provides the examples of Theodore Roosevelt and Cato the Younger. Roosevelt engaged in several bizarre actions during his time as US president. He almost died exploring a river in the Amazon, he needlessly slaughtered thousands of animals on safari. Roosevelt also begged to enlist as a soldier in the First World War, even though he was too old to fight. Roosevelt had some great accomplishments, but he was also prone to letting his emotions dictate his decisions. Instead of adopting this type of leadership, Ryan Holiday recommends acting like Cato the Younger. Cato was a senator and rival of Julius Caesar, who people had high expectations for. Specifically, they expected him to produce extravagant speeches. However, Cato decided to repress his ego and instead take time to evaluate his thoughts. Subsequently, Cato only gave speeches when he felt they would be most impactful. Cato did not let his emotions rule him, and his success was attributable to this approach.
“Cultivate the ability to judge yourself accurately and honestly. Look inward to discern what you’re capable of and what it will take to unlock that potential.”– Ryan Holiday
The month of March should be focused on obtaining an awareness of your mind. Ryan Holiday describes your mind as consisting of your instincts, patterns, and assumptions. Another word to describe your mind is your ego. You must avoid letting your ego lead you astray. The best way to keep your ego in check is to utilize logic and reasoning.
April (Unbiased Thought)
“If you bend your body into a sitting position every day for a long enough period of time, the curvature of your spine changes… The same is true for your mind. If you hold a perpetually negative outlook, soon enough everything you encounter will seem negative.”– Ryan Holiday
Humans naturally possess several biases. Therefore, to overcome these biases, we have to focus on harnessing purposeful thought and act upon the information we consume. Ryan Holiday is not arguing that we should not trust our instincts. Instead, we should constantly be evaluating our instincts and improving them when presented with novel information. If we are presented with information that showcases our errors, we must accept these errors and improve. The outcome of this approach is being able to adopt the optimal approach for each circumstance.
We should avoid attributing automatic perceptions to events. Seventeenth-century samurai swordsman and philosopher Musashi described the difference between those who are automatic and those who are purposeful in their response to events. According to Musashi, a person can look at something with an observing eye or a perceiving eye. The observing eye sees things for what they truly are. Comparatively, the perceiving eye relies on impulsive and subjective perceptions. Subsequently, the perceiving eye is prone to biases.
The Discipline of Action
May (Right Action)
“Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing.”– Ryan Holiday
A daily Stoic does not focus on achieving the right outcome. Instead, they focus on choosing the right action. In this way, Stoics were focused on the process rather than the result. The reason for this approach is we cannot control the outcome, but we can control our levels of effort and our chosen action. Therefore, be content in the knowledge that you made the correct decision.
June (Problem Solving)
“How you handle even minor adversity might seem like nothing, but, in fact, it reveals everything.”– Ryan Holiday
Problems are a part of life but do not need to be perceived as negative. Instead, Ryan Holiday suggests you regard problems as opportunities. Use these problems as an opportunity to utilize the stoicism you have been learning about during the easier periods of your life.
“Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what’s outside your control.”– Ryan Holiday
Avoiding bad actions is not enough. The Stoics believed that everything had a purpose, including you. Therefore, you need to aspire to your highest calling. Ryan Holiday calls this your duty. Your duty is something you should commit to every day of your life.
Always choose actions over inaction. Conditions will never be perfect for you to excel, and future opportunities may not come to fruition. Therefore, stop waiting for perfection and start taking action. Start moving the ball forward, and you are already making progress. Marcus Aurelius highlighted the human tendency to procrastinate or put things off until tomorrow. Subsequently, he argued that the best way to improve yourself is to always take action today.
The Discipline of Will
September (Fortitude and Resilience)
Previous challenges and struggles help us to build resilience. This resilience is integral to our success when facing future adversities. Resilience is a crucial component of building a fortitude. Ryan Holiday describes a fortress of mind, whereby we are heavily protected against future attacks.
Instead of obsessively planning, Stoics spend time fostering creativity, independence, and inventiveness. This allows them to be even more resilient when presented with new challenges. However, it also makes them more adaptable. For example, Ryan Holiday explains how backup options are highly effective in helping you to continue moving forward. He calls these backups a reverse clause. These reverse clauses mean your progress will never be halted. Instead, your progress will simply be redirected.
October (Virtue and Kindness)
No matter the potential for negativity, you can always decide to be virtuous and kind to others. Virtue itself is a composite concept comprising justice, honesty, discipline, and courage. Therefore, respond to all situations with empathy and love. This isn’t always going to be easy, though. Ryan explains that sometimes you have to dig this kindness from deep inside. However, you can increase your chances of adopting a virtuous approach by focusing on your thoughts and then implementing kindness through your actions.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”– Ryan Holiday
External events are objective, but the way we experience these events are influenced by our subjective interpretations. Therefore, we can always accept events as they are and choose to make the most of every experience. Lying about the nature of an experience will not allow you to fully implement a positive mindset, and negativity will start to seep in. Hence, acceptance is a crucial part of implementing stoicism.
Stoics have a specific phrase for this acceptance: amor fati. Amor fati means ’a love of fate.’ A true Stoic embraces the ups and downs associated with fate. They engage with what Ryan Holiday calls the ‘art of acquiescence.’ Adopting an accepting approach does not mean you should be passive, though. Ryan Holiday uses the example of Roosevelt again at this point but in a positive way. Roosevelt had been working towards becoming the US president his whole life. However, at the age of 39, he was diagnosed with polio. Instead of letting this diagnosis overwhelm him, he accepted the situation and refused to perceive himself as a victim. Avoiding victimhood allowed Roosevelt to kick on and become the longest-serving US president (serving for four terms). Your success relies on investing your energy into the things that matter rather than wasting them on the things you cannot change.
December (Meditation on Mortality)
Death is often described as the most common fear. Mortality is perceived as depressing, and we mourn the deaths of loved ones. However, Ryan Holiday explains that our own mortality can be harnessed as a powerful motivating force for positive change. Instead of viewing the instability of lives as negative, we can regard it as a reason to live our lives to the fullest.
Again, Cato the Younger is used as an example to showcase somebody who did not fear death. Cato simply viewed death as an inevitable end. Hence, this is why he was willing to kill himself rather than witness Julius Caesar’s destruction of the Roman Republic’s institutions. Ryan Holiday is not suggesting we follow Cato’s approach, but he is simply highlighting that a true Stoic understands that we should fit in as much success as possible before we meet our end.
We rate this book 4.7/5.
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