For the most part, we can’t change the world. We can’t change the fundamental facts of existence–like the fact that we’re going to die. We can’t change other people.
Does that mean that everything is hopeless and permanently broken?
No, because although we have that extreme powerlessness in one sense, we have an incredible superpower in another: We can change how we think about things. We can change how we view them, how we orient ourselves to them.
That’s the essence of Stoicism, by the way. The idea that we don’t control what happens, but we do control ourselves. When we respond to what happens, the main thing we control is our mind and the story we tell ourselves.
So one way to think about Stoicism itself then is as a collection of mindset shifts for the many situations that life seems to thrust us in. Indeed, Seneca’s Letters, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and Epictetus’ Discourses are filled with passages, anecdotes, and quotes which force a shift in perspective.
Here are 14 that I have taken from the Stoics over the years that have changed my life. I think they’ll do the same for you.
Everything is an opportunity for excellence. The now famous passage from Marcus Aurelius is that the impediment to action advances action, that what stands in the way becomes the way. But do you know what he was talking about specifically? He was talking about difficult people! He was saying that difficult people are an opportunity to practice excellence and virtue–be it forgiveness or patience or cheerfulness. And so it goes for all the things that are not in our control in life. So when I find myself in situations big and small, positive or negative, I try to see each of them as an opportunity for me to be the best I’m capable of being in that moment. It doesn’t matter who we are, where we are, we can always do this.
Every event has two handles, Epictetus said: “one by which it can be carried, and one by which it can’t. If your brother does you wrong, don’t grab it by his wronging, because this is the handle incapable of lifting it. Instead, use the other — that he is your brother, that you were raised together, and then you will have hold of the handle that carries.” Another way to say that is…