10 essential Stoic exercises

A list to return to again and again

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share two emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy.

By the way, I’m hosting a free workshop called How to Think Like a Stoic on Stoic Mindfulness next week. Check it out here.

🏛️ Theory

Today’s letter is different – I’m simply sharing a concise list of 10 key Stoic exercises:

Get a printable PDF above. I hope it is useful. Here’s the full list with a short quote, description, and instructions:

The Dichotomy of Control - “Some things are up to us and some are not.” Epictetus

  • Refocus your attention on what is up to you: your attention, decisions, and judgments.

  • Pay attention to any sensation or thought that arises. Let them come, let them be, and let them go. How you respond is in your power.

The Contemplation of the Sage - “You can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler” Seneca

  • Meditate on role models.

  • Choose a fictional or real role model. Visualize them observing you. Picture how they’d act in your place. Bring to mind the advice they’d give you.

The View from Above - “The universe is transformation. Life is opinion.” Marcus Aurelius

  • Enlarge your perspective. You are a part of a much larger whole.

  • Your life is one among billions. Slowly zoom out – picture yourself from the ceiling, then visualize your neighborhood, city, nation, and planet. Let the trivial fall away and the important stay.

Objective Description - “This Falernian wine is only a little grape juice” Marcus Aurelius

  • Redescribe the world in an objective way.

  • Take an object or phenomenon. Break it into its constituent parts. Ask: are the stories I tell myself about this true?

Refocus on Virtue - “Character is fate.” Heraclitus

  • Meditate on virtues like justice, courage, moderation, and wisdom.

  • Bring to mind the joy and life force of specific virtuous actions. Mentally rehearse acting with virtue.

Morning Preparation - “Let the mind be prepared to meet everything” Seneca

  • Ready yourself for the day.

  • Bring to mind who you will be. Imagine circumstances that will arise. Picture how you will act in detail. Mentally rehearse acting with excellence.

Evening Review - “When the light has been taken away…I examine my entire day, going through what I have done and said. I conceal nothing from myself, I pass nothing by.” Seneca

  • Reflect on your day and how you will live tomorrow.

  • Objectively catalog the events of the day. Note what you did well, where you can improve, and what you will do to live better tomorrow.

Socratic Dialogue - “The unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates

  • Hang a question mark next to your assumptions.

  • Ask why 5 times. Reflect on a philosophical question. Summon a panel of role models and imagine what questions they would ask you.

3 Disciplines - “Objective judgment, now at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very moment. Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events. That's all you need” Marcus Aurelius

  • Meditate on the three Stoic disciplines of desire, action, and judgment.

  • Catalog your desires and aversions. Review your judgments. Choose the actions you’ll take.

Stoic Mindfulness - “Attention is the fundamental Stoic spiritual attitude.” Pierre Hadot

  • Train your ability to be present and principled.

  • Rest your attention on your breath. As thoughts arise, note whether they align with your principles. Return your attention to the breath.

🎯 Action

Practice a single Stoic exercise from the list above. Then, return to the matter at hand.

🔗 Resources

📱 If you’d like more guidance for the exercises do check out the Stoa app.

👨‍🏫 If you’d like to go deeper still, sign up for our upcoming course in October.

🧘 I’m hosting a free workshop on Stoic Mindfulness next week, October 12th at 6pm ET. Register here.

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