Simple steps for self-transformation

Walking the Stoic path

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. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

Stoicism is a life philosophy. As such, it focuses on transforming its practitioners. Stoic philosophers, both modern and ancient, developed systems to become more Stoic.

Essentially, Stoics change their behavior through exercises, reflection, and practice. The ancients aimed to embody their philosophy in action. This is why Musonius Rufus said that philosophy itself is “nothing but the practice of noble behavior.”

Character is a matter of habit. Who you are is defined by what you do. Whether you’re courageous, just, disciplined, or wise must be evident in your decisions and judgments.

Epictetus advised his students to form good habits strategically and incrementally. One of his key insights was that every action is the result of a judgment. That judgment shapes our character. Whenever you make excellent decisions, it’s easier to do so again. And when you miss the mark, it becomes harder to hit it next time.

Hence he says:

Every habit and faculty is preserved and increased by corresponding action; as the habit of walking, by walking; of running, by running. If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write.

Epictetus, Discourses 2.18

There’s a momentum to decisions. In order to take advantage of that, we must level ourselves appropriately. If you haven’t run for months and want to get into it, it’s better to start small than try sprinting 10 miles. By slowly building up mileage running 10 miles may become easy. The real challenge is forming the habit of running – not one-off achievements. These points apply beyond physical exercise:

When you get angry, you’ve not only experienced that evil, but you’ve also reinforced a bad habit, adding fuel to the fire.

Epictetus Discourses 2.18

We must fuel the right fires. This means that, to the extent that we can, we should set ourselves up for success, put ourselves in situations where we can improve our character, choose approachable goals, and focus on changing ourselves.

🎯 Action

Choose one way that you’ll fuel the right fire today. Do it.

🎺 Become More Stoic – The Course?

Michael Tremblay and I are looking into running a live course on applying Stoicism – complete with workshops, a detailed curriculum, and community-based features.

Michael got his Ph.D. studying Epictetus and has a black belt in BJJ. I’ve taught meditation for almost five years through Stoa (and also have a background in philosophy and startups). So there are many things we could focus on. Let us know what would be most useful to you.

Get early access and fill out the survey here.

🔗 Resources

🧠 How Emotions Are Made by Lisa Feldman Barrett explains the modern science of emotions. It has much in common with Stoic thought. On the theme of shaping our emotions, Dr. Barrett writes:

Can you snap your fingers and change your feelings at will, like changing your clothes? Not really. Even though you construct your emotional experiences, they can still bowl you over in the moment. However, you can take steps now to influence your future emotional experiences, to sculpt who you will be tomorrow.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made

We construct our emotions. Hence, with time and effort, we can improve our emotional lives.

💬 And here is some encouragement from the philosopher, Plotinus:

If you do not yet see your own beauty, do as the sculptor does with a statue which must become beautiful: he removes one part, scrapes another, makes one area smooth, and cleans the other, until he causes the beautiful face in the statue to appear. In the same way, you too must remove everything that is superfluous, straighten that which is crooked and purify all that is dark until you make it brilliant. Never stop sculpting your own statue, until the divine splendor of virtue shines in you.

Plotinus, Enneads I 6.9

What did you think about today's letter?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Join the conversation

or to participate.