The Daily Stoic: Clarity

The Daily Stoic is a book by Ryan Holiday, and explores the main themes of the philosophical school of Stoicism.

He utilises quotes from some of the most prominent and influential Stoic thinkers of all time: Marcus Aurelius (a Roman emperor, 121-180 AD), Seneca (teacher of emperor Nero [Nero was a tyrant and didn’t seem to heed his tutor’s advice], who died in 65 AD), and Epictetus (a born slave, 50-135 AD), among others.

I have found this book and school of thought to be a fantastic guide in how to live. There is a reason this wisdom has persisted for millennia: it lays out how to live well, be good, and attain true happiness.

I’ve read the book a couple of times now, and I decided to make notes on it. I wanted to condense the messages conveyed in the book into quick-fire instructions on what I need to do in my life to be more stoic.

However, I think that these notes may be useful to others, which is why I’m posting them here.


Please note: Most of the text in these notes is owned by Ryan Holiday. I am posting them here for purely educational purposes. I condensed the book myself, but I don’t own any of the content. Some of my notes are paraphrased, but most are written verbatim.

You can buy the book ‘The Daily Stoic’ by clicking here.


The book is sectioned into three parts:

  • Part 1: The Discipline of Perception
  • Part 2: The Discipline of Action
  • Part 3: The Discipline of Will

Note: The date following each block of text indicates the source from the book, which is organised into a ‘message a day’ style.

In this post, I will share my condensed version of the most important take-away messages and instructions from:

1. The Discipline of Perception


Clarity

  • Understand which parts of life are within, and out of our control. Don’t fight against things you can’t control.
  • Good and Evil are to be found within our own choices, not uncontrollable externals.
  • You cannot change the past, but only the choices you make right now. (01/01)

  • In studying philosophy, one can attain tranquility, fearlessness and freedom.
  • Only the educated are free. (02/01)

  • You must say no to anger, excitement, distraction, obsession and lust, otherwise they combine into a committment, consuming your life.
  • If you don’t, you’ll have no time of your own left, and you’ll realise you’re dying before your time. (03/01)

  • The 3 essential parts of Stoic philosophy:
    1. Control your perceptions → be certain of your judgment in the present moment
    2. Direct your actions properly → work for the common good in the present moment
    3. Willingly accept what’s outside your control (04/01)
  • Let all your efforts be directed to something.
  • By not having an end in mind, you’re guarenteed to never reach it. By having a plan, you at least have a chance of getting there.
  • Without an end goal, you won’t know what to do day in, day out and be driven mad by the oblivion of directionlessness. (05/01)

  • Take the time to get clarity about who you are, and what you stand for. (06/01)

  • The proper work of the mind involves:
    • Choice → to do and think right
    • Refusal → of temptation
    • Yearning → to be better
    • Repulsion → of negativity, bad influences and of what isn’t true
    • Preparation → for what lies ahead, or whatever may happen
    • Purpose → our guiding principal and highest priority
    • Assent → to be free of deception about what’s inside and outside our control (and be ready to accept the latter)
  • This is what the mind is for. Anything else is pollution and corruption. (07/01)

  • We’ve got to give up the many addictions to things we think are good, as together they chip away at our freedom and sovereignity.
  • Otherwise, we’ll lose courage and greatness of soul.
  • You must reclaim your ability to abstain, as within it is your clarity and self-control. (08/01)

  • Things we control → our opinion, choice, desire, aversion → everything of our own doing
  • Things we don’t control → our body, property, reputation, position → everything not of our own doing
  • You can’t control external events, but you control your perceptions of them. You control what you think, and you alone. (09/01)

  • If you want steadiness and clarity, use proper judgment. (10/01)

  • Don’t seek to avoid all disruptions to tranquility – other people, external events, stress.
  • Instead, avoid the harmful & disruptive judgments that cause these problems. (11/01)

  • All you truly possess is your ability to make choices (and to use judgment & reason when doing so.
  • Apart from the choices you make, your fate isn’t entirely up to you.
  • Everything apart from your choices is up to God and Fortune. (12/01)

  • Tranquility and peace are found in identifying our path and in sticking to it: staying the course – making adjustments here and there, naturally – but ignoring the distracting sirens who beckon us to turn to the rocks.
  • Don’t be in doubt by following the myriad footpaths of those wandering in every direction. (15/01)

  • Don’t just do things because you’re in the habit. Question the things you do often, to ascertain whether there are better ways to spend your time, or to achieve the goal at hand. (16/01)

  • As an adult, your quality of life is at stake in the decisions you make.
  • You mustn’t be afraid of starting something new (like studying philosophy), as you have the best teachers of history to help.
  • Once you begin the work, the rest follows. But you must begin in the first place. (17/01)

  • “Pass through this brief patch of time in harmony with nature, and come to your final resting place gracefully, just as a ripened olive might drop, praising the earth that nourished it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth” – Marcus Aurelius
  • The end of life isn’t unlike a ripe fruit falling from it’s tree (18/01)

  • Whether you are free or imprisioned, your always have your freedom of choice. (19/01)

  • Your principals can only be extinguished if you snuff out the thoughts that feed them, but it’s in our power to ignite new thoughts.
  • Therefore, if things have been going badly, your principals remain unchanged. We can return and embrace them again at any time.
  • What happened before is in the past, but we can reignite and restart whenever we like. (20/01)

  • Regularly take the time to look inwards and examine. Make it a ritual. It could be journalling, meditating, or asking yourself a set of questions like Epictetus did each morning:
    • What am I lacking in attaining freedom from passion?
    • What for tranquility?
    • What is demanded of me? Meditate on your actions.
  • By self-examining over the course of a lifetime, you’ll have a decent shot at answering life’s toughest questions. (21/01)

  • Put each day up for review. Most of us just think about what we’re about to do, but you must remember that our plans for the future descend from the past.
  • At the end of each day, Seneca asked himself:
    • What bad habit did I curb today?
    • How am I better?
    • Were my actions just?
    • How can I improve?
  • A generally good daily stoic exercise is to journal about what you did, what you thought, and what can be improved (22/01)

  • Money only marginally changes life. It doesn’t solve the problems that poorer people think it will. In fact, no material possession will.
  • External things can’t fix internal things. (23/01)

  • When reading, do so carefully. Don’t be satisfied with a rough understanding of the whole, and don’t agree too quickly with those who have a lot to say about something.
  • Don’t just stop at the surface when it comes to learning.
  • When reading something meaningful (stoicism is a good example), absorb it. Write it into your DNA. Quote it often over the course of your life.
  • You can find much clarity and strength in words. (24/01)

  • Cultivate interests that are well below your financial means, so that any income, big or small, will allow you to persue what you really care about.
  • The more things we desire and the more we have to do to earn or attain those achivements, the less we actually enjoy our lives – and the less free we are. (25/01)

  • Erase the false impressions from your mind by constantly saying to yourself, ‘I have it in my soul to keep out any evil, desire or any kind of disturbance – instead, seeing the true nature of things, I will give them only their due.’ (26/01)

  • There are 3 areas that someone who would be wise and good must be trained:
    1. Desires and aversions – that a person may never miss the mark in desires, nor fall into what repels them.
    2. Impulses to act and not to act – and more broadly, duty – that a person may act deliberately for good reasons and not carelessly.
    3. Freedom from deception and composture, and judment in general – the assent our mind gives to its perceptions.
  • The first is most important, as it has to do with passions, for strong emotions arise only when we fail in our desires and aversions.
  • Why watch your desires and aversions? → So you want what’s good and avoid what’s bad. Don’t just listen to your body, as attractions can lead us astray.
  • Why watch your impulses? → they’re our motivations. Are we doing things for the right reasons? Or are we acting because we’re not thinking? Or do we think we have to do this thing?
  • Judment affects what we desire, our desires affect how we act, just as judment affects how we act. (27/01)

  • “Take a good hard look at people’s ruling principle, especially of the wise, what they run away from and what they seek out.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • “Without a ruler to do it against, you can’t make crooked straight.” – Seneca
  • Wise people are needed in our lives to act as role models. (28/01)

  • “At each moment, keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand, doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom and justice – giving yourself a break from all other considerations.
  • You can do this if you approach each task as if it were your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share.
  • You can see how mastery over a few things makes it possible to live an abundant and devout life – for, if you keep watch over these things, God won’t ask for more.” – Marcus (29/01)

  • One of the most important things you can say in these times is “I don’t know”, or “I don’t care”.
  • You don’t have to keep up to date with everything going on in the world, or care about it all.
  • It’s not obligatory to know everything that’s happening, all of the time.
  • You’d have so much more time, energy and brainpower available if you drastically cut your media consumption.
  • You’d feel so much more rested and present if you were no longer excited or outraged by every scandal, breaking story, and potential crisis. Most of that stuff is inconsequential in the long-term, anyway. (30/01)

  • “Don’t return to philosophy as a task-master, but as patients seek out relief in a treatment of sore eyes, or a dressing for a burn, or for an ointment. Regarding it this way, you’ll obey reason without putting it on display and rest easy in its care”. – Marcus Aurelius
  • Stoicism is designed to be medicine for the soul. It relieves us of the vulnerabilities of modern life.
  • Check in with it each day, and let it do its healing. (31/01)

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