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From Vol. 1, Issue 3, March 2019

My Stoic Routine

Practicing Stoicism || MASSIMO PIGLIUCCI

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What does a regular, everyday Stoic actually do, every day? Rather than write a theoretical essay on this, I figured it may be helpful to take a closer look at one example of Stoic practice, my own. 

Meditate in the morning 

I choose a passage from one of the ancient Stoics, read it several times, and reflect on it. 

Be ethically mindful all day long 

The word used by the Stoics for mindfulness was prosochÄ“, or paying attention. It is in part to try to live in the here and now, with no regrets about the past and no worry about the future It also means to remind myself that pretty much everything we do has an ethical dimension, from where we shop for groceries to how we treat our family, friends, co-workers. (It helps if one picks one or more role models — Socrates, Cato, Mandela, or Malala Yousafzai — and, when in doubt, asks oneself: what would they do?) 

Own the different roles you play 

Stoic ethics can perhaps best be practiced by following Epictetus’ suggestion of owning the various roles we play in life (father, companion, friend, teacher, colleague, etc.) so that we can play them at our best. 

Write a diary in the evening 

Every night I retire in a quiet corner of my apartment and take a few minutes to review the day that just ended, following Seneca’s suggestion: “The spirit ought to be brought up for examination daily. ‘What bad habit of yours have you cured today? What vice have you checked? In what respect are you better?’” (On Anger, III.36) 

Practice premeditatio malorum/view from above (occasionally) 

Two of the standard Stoic exercises are the premeditatio malorum, a contemplation of possible adversity to come, and the view from above, a meditation that helps us put our troubles into the broader perspective of humanity at large, with its sorrowful history, or even of the cosmos itself, in its vastness in both time and space. 

Study Stoicism actively 

In terms of readings, I keep going back to the ancients. I also read modern authors such Larry Becker, Margaret Graver, Bill Irvine, Anthony Long, Don Robertson, John Sellars, and many others. 

Fast once a week 

Musonius Rufus said that “mastering one’s appetites for food and drink is the beginning of and basis for self-control.” (Lectures 18A.1) That’s what I try to do: once a week I fast for the day and take no alcohol. As a side-effect, this feels good both psychologically (self-control is empowering!) and physically and I feel refreshed. 

Practice voluntary discomfort 

For me it takes the form of, for instance, finishing my shower by turning the water to cold, or going outside in the winter slightly underdressed for the weather. It is, again, both a reminder of what we have and may take for granted, and training for the eventuality that we may actually have to go hungry or with poor clothing — one never knows what Fortuna has in store for us. 

Train for physical endurance 

Because I appreciated martial arts such as Judo, Kung-fu and Karate when I was young, I signed up at a local gym for kick-boxing. I find that it requires endurance, cultivates patience, and develops one’s ability to focus. 

The above may sound like a lot, but most of the activities mentioned actually take very little time, or do not need to be carried out every day. 

Massimo Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. This is a condensed version of a longer article which first appeared in Massimo is the author of How to be a Stoic.