Many people want to know how to practice stoicism. They may have read popular books about stoicism or maybe they heard about it from a friend who swears by it.
The challenge is knowing how to practice stoicism. Sure you can (and should) read through the famous works of Stoics like:
Each of these provides a universe of insight into how to practice stoicism. The issue is that the translations may not always make sense to our modern age.
That’s why in this article we’ll go over 15 practical daily stoic exercises you can use today to better learn stoicism.
Table Of Contents: How To Practice Stoicism 15 Daily Exercises
- Marcus Aurelius Meditations
- Accept Death
- Deprive Yourself
- Reflect On Stoic Quotes
- Keep A Diary
- Reflect On Your Life
- Think Negative
- Stoic After Dark
- Know Your Place
- Imagine The Ideal You
- Remember The Four Virtues
- Don’t Get Distracted By Life
- Remember That Everything Is Temporary
- Practice Self Control
- Ask Is This Something I Have Control Over
- Accept What Happens (Amor Fati)
I would also highly recommend you grab the book by Ryan Holiday, The Daily Stoic, if you haven’t picked it up yet. It’s a great guide and intro into the non-philosophical philosophy of Stoicism.
How To Practice Stoicism – Video of Marcus Aurelius
Check out the above video to get a full summarization of 22 Stoic Principles directly from Roman Emperor and Meditations Author Marcus Aurelius.
Now, let’s dive in and provide 15 exercises you can start doing today so you can better learn how to practice stoicism.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 1 – Accept Death
Realize that you are going to die and accept that. I know it’s a hell of an exercise to start with, but it’s so important to the Stoic philosohpy. If you can’t accept this fact, then odds are Stoicism won’t really work out for you.
You need to own up to the fact that our lives are short especially when compared to the vastness of time and the universe. Try telling yourself that you are just one link in an endless link of history. You serve an important purpose, you just may not see the bigger picture of what that purpose is and that’s ok.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 2 – Deprive Yourself
One of the main belief systems behind Stoicism is that you don’t need much to be content. Humans aren’t guaranteed happiness or any outcome. In fact, many famous Stoics had horrible lives yet continued on despite of it.
Similar to Buddhism, the less you want, the easier it is to accept and enjoy what you have. You can exercise this practice by taking cold showers, fasting meals, and even eating foods you really don’t like. It’s all about depriving yourself of things you like so you realize those things don’t matter that much anyway.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 3- Reflect On Stoic Quotes
This is a pretty easy one to follow. Everyday you should read famous quotes and passages by Stoic philosophers. Don’t just read them though, really think about them and reflect on them. What do they mean and how can you apply them in your life?
Here are a few great quotes to get you started:
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day… The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time. – Marcus Aurelius
Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have. – Epictetus
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 4- Keep A Diary
Writing out your thoughts is one of the most powerful things you can do for your mental health. As a Stoic, it becomes even more important.
You want to write out your own thoughts so you can reflect on them. I actually have a collection or Morning Pages that I use to collect my thoughts nearly everyday. One of my questions is if I am being a good stoic or if I let matters out of my control adversely affect me.
If I find myself straying to far from my stoic belief system, I can see it happening in my journal reflections so I can work on it right away.
Journaling and keeping a diary helps to keep you aware of your own thoughts.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 5- Reflect On Your Life
This one sounds easy but actually can be tougher than you realize. In today’s modern age it’s harder than ever to really just sit back and think or reflect. You’ve got to set aside time for this. Maybe 15 minutes, better if it can be 60 minutes.
Turn off your phone, no computer, no spouse of kids in the room. Just you, alone with your thoughts. Think about what you’ve been journaling. Reflect on your actions. The true test of a stoic is how you’ve been reacting to others.
For me, I tend to get angrier than I would like with those closest to me. That is what I really focus on during my reflection time.
As far as when to do this, morning is obviously best as it’s usually quieter, but pick a time that works for you. The key is to stick to it and do this at least weekly, though daily is great.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 6- Think Negative
As a guy who grew up knee deep in the “positivity school” of think happy thoughts, this one has been tough for me. But since I’ve implemented it, the results have been spectacular.
The idea isn’t to fantasize or think about negative things just for the fun of it. No. Think of it like a personal form of disaster planning. One of the greatest enemies our minds create is expectations. We hate being surprised and we love certainty.
This practice is known as Premeditatio malorum. Here’s a video that explains it well:
So with this daily stoic practice, what you want to do is follow the option tree. Look at every possible outcome that could happen and imagine what it would feel like to go through that. You can then create a plan of how you would respond.
I can tell you from firsthand experience when bad things befall you, if you’ve at least thought about it mentally it’s 1000 times easier to deal with. While not fool proof and you’re sure to miss some potential pitfalls, it’s a great way to steel your mind against the travesties of life.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 7- Stoic After Dark
When you’re in bed, just before you fall asleep, your mind is in a good place for reflection and thought injection. Now, before you drift off, think through the day. How did you do? What could you do better?
What emotions got in your way? Did you succumb to anger or another negative emotion? These questions, if asked daily, allow you to keep track of your day by day progress as a Stoic.
While none of us will ever be perfect due to our human nature, we can always improve each day. Taking a moment before sleep to think about what we can do to make each day a little better goes a long way.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 8- Know Your Place
This is another exercise that helps you realize how small you are in comparision to the vastness of the universe. Our ego is huge so we tend to overstate our importance. Stoicism helps to remind us that we are really just a vapor in the wind.
Picture the Sun in all its splendor and glory. It gives us heat and light and life. It is nearly 93 million miles away from earth. Now picture how far 93 million miles is. And consider the fact that 1 million earths could fit inside the sun.
And we aren’t the earth. We aren’t a country, or a state, or a city, or a street, even a house. We are just one single person sitting here, right now, thinking about the Sun.
Realize your place in the universe. Then, think about the fact that the Sun will die as well. The sun is middle aged right now. It has about 5 Billion years left. Us humans, if we’re lucky, get about 100 years. Small potatoes.
Now, work hard at being ok with this. Accept it, lean into it. Know that you have work to do to fulfill your purpose. Do everything you can with the time you’ve been given.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 9- Imagine The Ideal You
This one is pretty easy as it plays right into our ego. But it’s helpful because it can point out gaps between where you are and where you want to be.
Picture the ideal you. Who are you, what you look like, how it feels to be you. What have you accomplished? Where do you live? What kind of character do you have?
You want to create in your mind the vision of the ideal you. Now, take a moment to look at the real you. Where are you falling short? Is your character everything it should be? Are you lacking any of the core values required of a good Stoic (more on those next).
The gap is the area that you can fix. It will take time, but this daily stoic exercise is all about taking you from where you’re at now to a more ideal you.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 10- Remember The Four Virtues
It can be easy to turn Stoicism into a religion. Something we all need to watch out for. One way to do that is to remember the Four Virtues of Stoicism not as a dogma or rules, but as a great way to live your life. If you like the results you get, the other stuff doesn’t really matter.
The four virtues of Stoicism are as follows: (credit to Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
- Wisdom – Wisdom is subdivided into good sense, good calculation, quick-wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness.
- Justice – Justice is subdivided into piety, honesty, equity, and fair dealing.
- Courage – Courage is subdivided into endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness.
- Moderation/Temperance – Moderation is subdivided into good discipline, seemliness, modesty, and self-control.
As you can see, there’s a ton here to unpack. Turning this into a daily stoic exercise should be really easy.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 11- Don’t Get Distracted By “Life”
Life is filled with distractions that pull you away from the task at hand. While this particular exercise isn’t necessarily a “practice” you can do everyday, the idea is to gain awareness.
Notice how apt you are to drift away mentally. If someone is talking to you, are you paying attention to what they’re saying or are you waiting for your chance to speak?
Does your phone call out to you to look at it every hour or less (mine does). Does this prevent you from living your life and staying focused and on task? As we’ve discussed earlier, life is short. Every distraction is robbing your of what little life we have left.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life or even being distracted – as long as you are aware that you are making that choice. Don’t let it happen to you without your permission.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 12- Remember That Everything Is Temporary
Yes, another discussion about how nothing lasts forever. But it’s important to remember. How many problems do we let stress us out that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things?
Too many of us let the small things turn into big things and ruin our day or our week. Here’s the reality though… there are very few “big” things or little things. Life is full of temporary moments and yes we should enjoy what we can when we can.
But don’t forget that all things pass away. The person you’re mad at for cutting you off in traffic is headed to the same ending that you are and that I am.
We must remember our end so we can live life to the fullest right now and squeeze out every drop and play our part as best we can.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 13- Practice Self-Control
Perhaps the greatest of all the virtues is moderation or temperance. Think of this as self-control. If you are going to drink, be in control of it. Same with food, sex, or any other pleasurable activity.
Stoics are definitely not hedonists. While there is nothing wrong with pleasure, over time we become desensitized to it and need more and more to get that dopamine high. This is why addicts and alcoholics require more and more of their drug of choice to get the same feeling.
We can control this as Stoics by remaining vigilant in our decisions. Practice daily the habit of self-control. You will be amazed how good it feels to say no to something you want. You will start to become aware of the idea that you are really two people.
I think of it as the “present” me and the “future” me. Present me is pretty dumb and lives for the moment. Future me is wise and thoughtful and wants what is truly best for me long term. The more Stoic I become, the more I listen to future me and tell present me to shut up.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 14- Ask Is This Something I Have Control Over?
Every good Stoic knows that things in life break down into one of two different categories. Things we can control and things we can’t control. You need to develop the daily practice of thinking about those two options as life presents you with obstacles.
Many mistake Stoicism for just accepting everything and remaining emotionless. This is not what it means to be a Stoic. It means that we will work hard to change the things we can control but we won’t waste mental or emotional energy on things outside of our control.
It takes time to recognize the difference between these two things, but daily practice goes a long way towards building up this muscle.
How To Practice Stoicism: Exercise 15- Accept What Happens
I saved this one for the end because it’s one of the toughest to deal with. The popular phrase is Amor Fati, and I actually have this tattooed on my arm.
The Latin phrase means Love fate or love one’s fate. It is believed to be from Nietzsche. You can watch this video to get a better idea of what it means:
This idea goes hand in hand with accepting what we can and can’t control. We want to get to the point where we see the world as not happening TO us, but happening around us. If negative events befall us, they are only negative because we provided that judgement.
Consider that when one team wins a championship, the other team loses. What is good or bad is not what happened, but what side you are on. If that’s the case, then we really aren’t in a position to cast judgement or desire either way.
At least not philosophically speaking. Sure, we have a preference for how we want the world to work and treat us, but we are not in control of that. All we can control is our daily actions. Everything else is up to chance or God or the Universe or Fate. Learn to love and accept that.
How To Be A Stoic: The Conclusion
Use these daily stoic practices so you can learn to reframe what happens to you. At it’s heart, Stoicism is about taking all the negative feelings we may be experiencing and turning them around into peaceful thoughts.
We do this by shifting perspective and ridding ourselves of expectation. You can literally live a much happier, fulfilling life by simply practicing these stoic exercises and letting go of what “should” be.
We are not in control and never will be. As humans on a giant rock in the middle of nowhere, how much power do you think we actually have?
Once we get the right state of mind, we are prepared to live a good, honorable stoic life. I hope this article helps you on that journey,