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10 Stoic Principles: Become More Productive With a Calm Mindset to Solve Problems

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Stoic principles originated from ancient philosophies. But they continue to be relevant and useful today. People continue to study, apply and teach a Stoic mindset because of its many benefits, as you’ll learn later in this article.

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The Stoic mindset helps you to be contented in the here and now. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy that believes the highest good (or “virtue”) is based on knowledge and logic. Zeno, a merchant turned philosopher, is considered the founder of Stoicism in 300 BCE. In fact, the word “stoicism” originated from the “stoa” or covered hall where Zeno delivered his philosophical lectures. It’s said that the great leaders and thinkers of history, from Walt Whitman to Adam Smith to Theodore Roosevelt, were influenced by Stoicism.

How can you use Stoic principles to become more productive today? Keep reading to find out.

10 Stoic Principles to Live By

Stoicism continues to be popular today because those who apply Stoic principles experience many benefits. These include self-mastery, increased productivity, reduced anxiety, and greater resilience to weather the hardships of life. As we dive into some of the basic Stoic principles below, you’ll understand how Stoicism can have these positive effects.

It takes years of study and practice to develop a Stoic mindset, so this is merely an overview. To give you an idea of what Stoicism is all about, here are a few of the basic principles of Stoicism:

1. The Way to Achieve Happiness is by Pursuing Virtue

Stoicism is concerned with the pursuit of happiness and success. And according to Stoic principles, the way to achieve happiness is by living a life of virtue. Happiness is not about accumulating material goods or gaining worldly power. Rather, the Stoics believe an individual attains happiness by living a virtuous life. And when you live by virtue, then you’re being your best self.

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According to Stoicism, happiness is not about accumulating worldly wealth. (Image source: Envato Elements)

2. The Stoic Virtues Are Wisdom, Moderation, Justice, and Courage

The Stoics have four main types of virtues:

  1. Wisdom means practical soundness of mind and prudence, as opposed to thoughtlessness. The virtue of wisdom helps you discern what is good so that you can choose to have healthy thoughts, opinions, and actions. It’s about being thoughtful, seeking understanding, and therefore being more intentional with your decisions. It includes good sense, good calculation, quick-wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness.
  2. Justice for Stoics goes beyond abiding by the legal (or justice) systems. For Stoics, the virtue of justice is closer to “morality.” It refers to how one relates with other people, with our community, and with the rest of humankind. It includes kindness, fairness, equity, honesty, goodwill, and benevolence.
  3. Courage is a virtue relating to one’s emotions. It means accepting, embracing, and even loving things that normally evoke fear and aversion, such as rejection, misfortunes, disease, loss, and even death. The virtue of courage includes cheerfulness, confidence, high-mindedness (or idealism,) and endurance.
  4. Moderation is the virtue applied to one’s choices. Stoics also refer to it as “temperance.” It means being able to control your desires so that you can behave with grace and within the boundaries of reasonableness. It’s divided into appropriateness, good discipline, modesty, and self-control.

Furthermore, Stoics believe that these virtues are always good. When caught in a dilemma, it’s always good to choose according to wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation.

3. Do Not Let Strong Feelings Control You

Stoic principles teach that we should not be controlled by our emotions. Living by virtue helps us achieve this.

For example, courage enables us to feel fear—and still face that which we are afraid of. Moderation means one can feel desire, even a strong one. But one doesn’t have to be controlled by those desires. Justice means one can feel anger towards another person yet still treat them with kindness and fairness. Finally, with wisdom, we can think through our choices and make decisions based on logic rather than on feelings alone.

4. What We Normally Consider “Bad” Are Not So; They’re Simply Facts of Life

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A Stoic mindset helps you embrace the bad as well as the good things in life. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Stoic principles recognize that everything, from human beings to the universe, has a nature or an order. The nature of life is to have the bad as well as the good. There’s birth and death. There’s health and sickness. There’s success and failure. Stoic principles say we must align ourselves with both the good and the bad parts of nature. The virtue of courage helps us to act in the face of the bad.

5. One Can Only Control One’s Self

One of the Stoic principles says that we have limited control over the things that happen around us. It doesn’t make sense to be anxious over things beyond our control.

We cannot control other people’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions, for example. We cannot control the weather. We have control only over our own self: one’s thoughts, opinions, decisions, and actions. You can control how hard you work. But you cannot control the results of your work. You can control how you treat other people. But you cannot control whether they like you. 

6. Every Person Has the Internal Resources They Need to Achieve Happiness

It doesn’t take special talents or wealth to live by the four Stoic virtues. Every single one of us can be our “best self.” Cleanthes, who inherited Zeno’s Stoic school, taught that everyone is born with the seeds of virtue. It’s up to each one to nurture those seeds. This doesn’t take away the fact that we each have different environments, influences, and challenges to living virtuously. But no matter what obstacles stand in our way, we can always strive towards virtue. So, everyone has the potential to achieve success and happiness.

The discussion of “internal” resources must include mental illness and dementia—two conditions that diminish a person’s control over their thoughts and actions and therefore their ability to be happy. Ancient Stoic philosophers did mention mental illness or “madness treated by medical doctors.” They recognized that these individuals need medical treatment and additional resources to be able to control their thoughts and so strive for Stoic virtues. At the same time, ancient Stoics believed that Stoic principles may help the mentally ill, even if it does not cure them. This is borne out by the fact that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has similarities to Stoic principles, has been shown to be helpful in certain mental disorders. 

In the case of dementia, which is a progressive and incurable condition, would virtue even be possible? It’s unclear whether ancient Stoic philosophers recognized dementia and whether it impacts how to be more Stoic.

7. We Have Unlimited Opportunities to Be Virtuous

Daily living presents us with many opportunities to practice the four Stoic virtues. This is another reason to embrace the negative as well as the positive things in life. If everything always went our way, if everyone always behaved the way we wanted them to, then we wouldn’t need to act virtuously. We wouldn’t be able to flex those virtue “muscles” and become more virtuous. 

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Stoic principles say that every challenge is an opportunity to become your best self. (Image source: Envato Elements)

The challenging circumstances and people we encounter are opportunities for us to draw on the Stoic virtues and be our best self. And so, in any negative situation, instead of complaining and resisting it, instead look at it as the opportunity to respond with virtue. Stop and ask yourself, “What would my Best Self do? What’s the opportunity here to act with wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation?”

In other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. On the contrary, every difficulty is a chance to learn how to be more Stoic.

8. No Man or Woman is an Island

Stoicism recognizes that humans have a social nature. That is, our personal interests are bound with the interests of others. Stoic principles recognize our inter-connectedness and promote cooperation despite our differences. A Stoic’s goal is to live in harmony with nature, and that includes being in harmony with others. This is why Stoics consider justice to be one of the main virtues that help us achieve happiness. 

In Meditations 2:1, Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and one of the first Stoic philosophers, wrote:

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad.

But I have recognised the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity.

So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him.

We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone.

9. You Only Have to Deal With the Present

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Focusing on the present moment is one of the principles of Stoicism. (Image source: Envato Elements)

We’re stressed out because we obsess about the past and worry about the future. According to the Stoics, all this anxiety is unnecessary because we only really have the present to contend with. 

And then remind yourself that it is not the future or what has passed that afflicts you, but always the present, and the power of this is much diminished if you take it in isolation and call your mind to task if it thinks that it cannot stand up to it when taken on its own. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 8:36

Marcus Aurelius tells us to take the present “in isolation” and “on its own” to make it manageable. In his book The Beginner’s Guide to Stoicism: Tools for Emotional Resilience and Positivity, Matthew Van Natta recommends an exercise called “Circle the Present.” To do this exercise, focus on the present moment then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you handle this moment?
  • What can you do right now to have healthy thoughts and to take helpful actions?

When you’re looking at only what’s right in front of you, life becomes much easier.

10. What’s Important is Progress, Not Perfection

Stoic principles aim for perfection in the form of a perfectly virtuous life. But the Stoics recognize that while practicing Stoicism, humans will continue to make mistakes. But this should not stop us from striving. While perfection may be unattainable, progress is always possible. Consistent practice and continuous improvement are the hallmarks of success.

Epictetus, who became a Stoic teacher, is quoted as saying:

If anyone would take these two words to heart and use them for his own guidance and regulation, he will be almost without sin and will lead a very peaceful life. These two words are persist and resist.

Myths and Misconceptions About Stoicism: What Stoic Principles Are Not

To better understand Stoicism, let’s demystify some of the common myths and misconceptions about it:

1. Stoics Are Emotionless

The word “stoic” means someone who doesn’t experience or exhibit emotions. This leads people to think that Stoicism teaches us to shun or deny our emotions. But Stoicism does not reject feelings. It teaches us to confront our feelings (remember the virtue of courage) and not be controlled by them. 

“Developing a virtuous life actually leads to a rich emotional life, one in which you are skillful with those emotions—cultivating the positive, while quickly overcoming the negative,” writes Van Natta in The Beginner’s Guide to Stoicism.

2. Stoicism is All About Individual Improvement and Gain

Because Stoicism is focused on attaining happiness, it’s often misconstrued as a very individualistic and self-centered philosophy. But as we’ve seen above, Stoicism recognizes that our individual happiness is tied up with others’ well-being. We’re all interconnected.

3. Stoicism Focuses on the Negative

Because Stoicism accepts and embraces the bad along with the good, some people think it is pessimistic and focused only on the negative. Stoicism is not pessimistic in the sense that it expects only bad things to happen. What it does tell us is that bad things happen as part of universal nature, and we can endure them. It doesn’t help to bury our heads in the sand with blind optimism. Instead, we endure bad things by expecting them, being prepared for them, and staying in control of ourselves.

How to Apply the Stoic Principles

Now that you have an overview of what Stoic principles are and what they’re not, how do you apply them in your daily life? Here are three practical ways to apply a Stoic mindset and improve your productivity and mental outlook.

1. Focus on What You Can Control

We tend to focus on the outcomes of our actions, but most of the time, we cannot control those outcomes. 

For example, let’s say you have a report due at work. You’re in complete control of what goes into the report, how much work you put into it, and what the final report looks like. But you’re not in control of the outcome of the report: whether the senior leaders like it, hate it, or are indifferent to it; what actions are taken by your organization as a result of your report, and so on. In other words, you can only do your best with the report. The rest is not up to you.

Learn to distinguish the things you can control from the things you cannot. Focus on what you can control.

2. Learn to Love the Bad as Much as the Good

Earlier, we mentioned the Stoic principle of embracing both the good and the bad elements of life. But in practicing a Stoic mindset, you can go beyond acceptance into loving adversity. This sounds counter-intuitive. But remember that difficulties can make you stronger if you use them to grow in the Stoic virtues. 

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A Stoic mindset loves life's challenges because they make you stronger. (Image source: Envato Elements)

If you study the lives of high achievers, they’re often quoted as saying something like, “I went through some terrible and difficult things. But I would not trade them for anything, because those hardships led me to where I am now.”

Look at your life with the same lens. Look for the silver lining. Harness the bad to get closer to your best self.

3. Practice Mindfulness

Because all we have is the present, as Stoicism teaches, then our response can only be mindfulness. Mindfulness means being fully attentive to the present moment. There are many exercises to increase mindfulness, such as breathing and meditation. 

On a more practical level, mindfulness can mean stopping at different moments in the day to check in with yourself:

  • Am I concerned with the task at hand?
  • Am I focused on what I can control?
  • What am I trying to do right now?

When you’re feeling overwhelmed and pulled into a thousand different directions, practice mindfulness by asking yourself, “What’s the single next step I should be taking right now?” You’ll discover the one thing you need to focus on in the present moment and what things can be put off.

Boost Your Productivity Even More with Envato Elements

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As you practice the Stoic principles above, you’ll notice that your productivity will improve. You’ll be calmer, more focused, and more effective.

You can further improve your productivity by streamlining your workflow with the help of Envato Elements. An Elements subscription means you’ll have all the creative assets you need to create presentations, documents, videos, websites, and other communication materials. You get unlimited downloads to all the assets you need—all on one low monthly subscription. And your subscription includes one license that covers both personal and commercial use. 

These assets are created by professionals and are fully customizable by you. Aside from improving your workflow, Elements enables you to communicate more effectively and look more professional.

Stoicism: An Ancient Approach to Modern Living

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Learn how to be more Stoic and reap the benefits. (Image source: Envato Elements)

Although Stoicism has roots in ancient philosophy, its principles remain true and relevant today. Many of today’s leaders continue to study and apply the Stoic mindset to achieve success.

By applying a few Stoic principles, you can reduce the anxiety, conflict, and mental distress that are so common in modern life. You’ll learn how to make better use of your time and skills. You’ll be more productive and effective. You’ll build a more resilient character.

And if you want even more ways to increase your productivity, then consider a subscription to Elements. It will help streamline your work and become a better communicator.

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