Build your resilience: Follow the Stoics

Posted May 11th, 2018

Vicenza, Italy, 20th September 2015. Marathon runners

Ancient Greece may not be the first place you think of when considering the concept of resilience, which is basically the ability to bounce back from negative situations, but it is the home of Stoicism.

Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in early 3rd century BC and teaches us that we cannot control external events, only our mental and emotional responses to them. It explores how negative self-talk can intensify and prolong our suffering.

As the saying goes: ‘Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional’.

Psychology Today neatly sums up this approach: “By adjusting our thinking, and how we think about our thinking, we can change our emotional responses, the extent to which we suffer (or not), our level of tension and stress, and in turn, our experience of pain.”

But the Stoics are often misunderstood and equated with being unemotional and indifferent to physical suffering.

In fact, the Stoics did not recoil from feeling grief, anger or pain any other emotion. Instead they focused on cultivating a level of detachment and observing their own thoughts. They thought that human happiness could be found only in accepting the present moment, rather than by being controlled by the pursuit of pleasure or the desperation to avoid pain.

The stoics preached working collaboratively and treating other people fairly and with empathy. They stressed the benefits of logic, self control and inner calm, something most of us could do with a large dose of.

The philosophy contends that the way to be happy is to live a virtuous life and that you should judge somebody based on their actions much more than their words.

The Daily Stoic has this to say about Stoicism: “Stoicism doesn’t concern itself with complicated theories about the world, but with helping us overcome destructive emotions and act on what can be acted upon. It’s built for action, not endless debate.”

Modern self-help books talk about resilience and mindfulness colouring books fly off the shelves, but they are both really based on Stoicism.

One of the most famous Stoics was Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 160 to 180AD, and some of his quotes are inspirational reminders about living an ethical, self-disciplined and humble life and treating fellow humans with kindness and compassion.

Meditations, his only major work, contains some profoundly moving statements and exhortations to live the most virtuous lives we can.

Inspirational quotes from Marcus Aurelius

Many of his thoughts focus on the impossibility of mastering outside events and accepting them with grace instead.

  • “The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.”
  • “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”
  • “How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.”
  • “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

On acceptance and action: “Objective judgement, 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.”

On wisdom: “You’re subject to sorrow, fear, jealousy, anger and inconsistency. That’s the real reason you should admit that you are not wise.”

Back in the days of Seneca, Epictetus and Aurelius (all good Stoics) philosophy was about finding practical ways to live life, it was not as a theoretical construct removed from the reality of people’s lives, as it is sometimes today.

Seeing a trained counsellor can enable you to take a step back from your problems and help you get unstuck. Like Stoicism, it can give you strategies and solutions to help you confront difficult events and overcome pain, grief and sorrow in your life.

As Marcus Aurelius said: “No man can escape his destiny, the next inquiry being how he may best live the time that he has to live.”

Filled Under: Happiness, Self-Esteem
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