The Daily Stoic: Unbiased Thought

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


Unbiased Thought

  • “Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human spirit is colored by such impressions.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • If you hold a perpetually negative outlook, soon enough everything will seem negative.
  • Colour your mind with the wrong thoughts and your life will be dyed the same. (01/04)

  • It’s much harder to focus on your own issues when you’re distracted with other people’s drama and conflict, people with low standards and the bubble of television chatter.
  • When we inevitably encounter these influences, there is nothing that says we have to let those influences penetrate our minds.
  • Uninvited guests might arrive at your home, but you don’t have to ask them to stay for dinner. You don’t have to let them into your mind. (02/04)

  • “There is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • This is a war inside each individual between the good parts of their soul and the bad.
  • The stoics say that war is usually a result of our conflicting desires, screwed-up judgments or biased thoughts.
  • In order to stop working against ourselves, we must ask: ‘what do I really want?’ (03/04)

  • “Make sure you’re not made ‘Emperor,’ avoid that imperial stain. It can happen to you, so keep yourself simple, good, pure, saintly, plain, a friend of justice, god-fearing, gracious, affectionate, and strong for your proper work. Fight to remain the person that philosophy wished to make you. Revere the gods, and look after each other. Life is short—the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • When we experience success, we must make sure it doesn’t change us – that we continue to maintain our character despite the temptation not to.
  • Reason must lead the way no matter what good fortune comes along. (04/04)

  • We lose very little by taking a beat to consider our own thoughts:
    • Is this really so bad? What do I really know about this person? Why do I have such strong feelings here? Is anxiety really adding much to the situation? What’s so special about this?
  • By asking ourselves this, we’re putting our impressions to the test, so we’re less likely to be carried away by them or make a move on a mistaken or biased one.
  • We can still use our instincts, but we should always ‘trust, but verify’ (Russian proverb) (05/04)

  • “When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Because I have understood the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, I know that these wrong-doers are still akin to me . . . and that none can do me harm, or implicate me in ugliness—nor can I be angry at my relatives or hate them. For we are made for cooperation.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Nicolas Chamfort said that if you ‘swallow a toad every morning’, you’ll be fortified against anything else disgusting that might happen the rest of the day.
  • Might it not be better to understand up front – right when you wake up – that other people often behave in selfish or ignorant ways than it is to nibble it throughout the day?
  • The point of this preparation isn’t to write off everything in advance. It’s that maybe, because you’ve prepared for it, you’ll be able to act with patience, forgiveness and understanding. (06/04)

  • “There are two things that must be rooted out in human beings—arrogant opinion and mistrust. Arrogant opinion expects that there is nothing further needed, and mistrust assumes that under the torrent of circumstance there can be no happiness.” – Epictetus
  • How often do we begin a project certain we know exactly how it will go? How often do we meet people and think we know exactly who and what they are?
  • How often are we completely wrong in these assumptions?
  • This is why we must fight our biases and preconceptions: because they are a liability.
  • Ask yourself: What haven’t I considered? Why is this thing the way it is? Am I part of the problem or the solution here? Could I be wrong here?
  • Remember: We’re not as smart and wise as we’d like to think we are. If we ever want to become wise, it comes from the questioning and from humility – not from certainty, mistrust and arrogance. (07/04)

  • We often accept potentially life-changing thoughts or assumptions without so much as a question.
  • One of these assumptions may be that having lots of money makes you wealthy.
  • Another, that because a lot of people believe something, it must be true.
  • We should really be testing these notions vigilantly.
  • “the first and greatest task of the philosopher is to test and seperate appearances, and to act on nothing that is untested.” – Epictetus (08/04)

  • “From the very beginning, make it your practice to say to every harsh impression, ‘you are an impression and not at all what you appear to be.’ Next, examine and test it by the rules you possess, the first and greatest of which is this—whether it belongs to the things in our control or not in our control, and if the latter, be prepared to respond, ‘It is nothing to me.’” – Epictetus
  • Remember: our senses are wrong all the time – what feels right now doesn’t always stand up well over time.
  • You must cultivate the awareness that allows you to step back and analyse your own senses, question their accuracy, and proceed only with the positive and constructive ones. (09/04)

  • “It isn’t events themselves that disturb people, but only their judgments about them.” – Epictetus
  • The samurai Musashi made a distinction between our ‘perceiving eye’ and our ‘observing eye’.
  • The observing eye sees what is. The perceiving eye sees what things supposedly mean.
  • The observing eye sees that an event is inanimate, objective and that it simply is what it is.
  • The perceiving eye brings us disturbances and them blames them on the event. (10/04)

  • “Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus
  • “Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him” – Emerson
  • If you want to learn, seeking out teachers and books is a good start, but you must be humble and ready to give up your preconcieved opinions to really get anywhere. (11/04)

  • “Atreus: Who would reject the flood of fortune’s gifts? Thyestes: Anyone who has experienced how easily they flow back.” – Seneca
  • Our attraction toward what is new and shiny can lead us into serious trouble. (12/04)

  • “Don’t act grudgingly, selfishly, without due diligence, or to be a contrarian. Also, don’t overdress your thought in fine language. Don’t be a person of too many words and too many deeds. . . . Be cheerful, not wanting outside help or the relief others might bring. A person needs to stand on their own, not be propped up.” – Marcus Aurelius (13/04)

  • We can get very good at what we’re paid to do, or adept at a hobby we wish we could be paid to do.
  • Yet our own lives, habits, and tendencies might be a mystery to us.
  • At the end of your time on this planet, what expertise is going to be more valuable – your understanding of matters of living and dying, or your knowledge of the ’87 Bears?
  • Which will help your children more – your insight into happiness and meaning, or that you followed breaking political news every day for thirty years? (14/04)

  • “Nothing will ever befall me that I will receive with gloom or a bad disposition. I will pay my taxes gladly. Now, all the things which cause complaint or dread are like the taxes of life—things from which, my dear Lucilius, you should never hope for exemption or seek escape.” – Seneca
  • There are many forms of taxes in life. You can argue with them, you can go to great – but ultimately futile – lenghts to evade them, or you can simply pay them and enjoy the fruits of what you get to keep. (15/04)

  • “Pay close attention in conversation to what is being said, and to what follows from any action. In the action, immediately look for the target, in words, listen closely to what’s being signaled.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Become an observer of your own thoughts and the actions those thoughts provoke.
  • Only when this is done can negative behaviour patterns be broken; only then can real life improvements be made.
  • This is the underlying principle of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). (16/04)

  • “Do away with the opinion I am harmed, and the harm is cast away too. Do away with being harmed, and harm disappears.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • It is important to control the biases and lenses we bring to our interactions. When you hear or see something, which interpretation do you jump to? What is your default interpretation of someone else’s intentions?
  • Choose the right inference from someone’s actions or from external events, and it’s a lot more likely that you’ll have the right response. (17/04)

  • We’re constantly looking at the world around us and putting our opinions on top of it.
  • No wonder we feel angry and upset so often!
  • But what if we let these opinions go? Try weeding them out of your life so that things simply are. Not good or bad, not coloured with opinion or judgment. Just are. (18/04)

  • In our lives, whether we’re experiencing great power or powerlessness, it’s critical to leave room for what may happen and keep the common good and the actual worth of things front and centre.
  • And, above all, be willing to learn from anyone and everyone, regardless of their station in life. (19/04)

  • People have always assumed that wealth would be a cure for their problems and unhappiness.
  • But when people actually aquired the money and status they craved, they discovered it wasn’t quite what they had hoped.
  • The ‘good’ that the Stoics advocate is simpler and more straightforward: wisdom, self-control, justice, courage.
  • No one who achieves these quiet virtues experiences buyer’s remorse. (20/04)

  • “When you let your attention slide for a bit, don’t think you will get back a grip on it whenever you wish—instead, bear in mind that because of today’s mistake everything that follows will be necessarily worse. . . . Is it possible to be free from error? Not by any means, but it is possible to be a person always stretching to avoid error. For we must be content to at least escape a few mistakes by never letting our attention slide.” – Epictetus
  • Attention is a habit. Letting it slip and wander builds bad habits and enables mistakes. (21/04)

  • To be rational today we have to do just three things:
    • First, we must look inward. (self-awareness)
    • Next, we must examine ourselves critically. (self-examination)
    • Finally, we must make our own decisions – uninhibited by biases or popular notions. (self-determination) (22/04)

  • “…of sex, that it is only rubbing private parts together followed by a spasmic discharge” – Marcus Aurelius
  • If you take a second to consider sex in such an absurd light, you may be less likely to do something shameful or embarrassing in the pursuit of it. This is a counterbalance to the natural bias we have toward something that feels good.
  • We can apply this way of thinking to lots of situations:
    • Consider the envy-inducing photo seen on social media – imagine the person painstakingly taking it
    • Think of the beautiful, perfect person you’re admiring from afar – if they’re single, then they can’t be perfect.
  • This exercise isn’t to turn you into a cynic, but to provide some objectivity. (24/04)

  • “If anyone can prove and show to me that I think and act in error, I will gladly change it—for I seek the truth, by which no one has ever been harmed. The one who is harmed is the one who abides in deceit and ignorance.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • No one should be ashamed of changing their mind.
  • It would be embarrassing if we didn’t end up finding out if we were wrong in the past.
  • Remember: you’re a free agent. When someone points out a legitimate flaw in your belief or in your actions, they’re not criticising you. They’re presenting a better alternative. Accept it. (25/04)

  • By seeing each day and each situation as a kind of training exercise, the stakes suddenly become a lot lower.
  • The way you interpret your own mistakes and those of others is suddenly a lot more generous.
  • It’s certainly a more resilient attitude than going around acting like the stakes of every encounter put the championship on the line. (26/04)

  • “Watch the stars in their courses and imagine yourself running alongside them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Given that we’re in our bodies every day, it’s tempting to think that’s the most important thing in the world.
  • But we counteract that bias by looking at nature – at things much bigger than us.
  • Looking at the beautiful expanse of the sky is an antidote to the nagging pettiness of earthly concerns.
  • It is good and sobering to lose yourself in that as often as you can. (29/04)

  • “Just as what is considered rational or irrational differs for each person, in the same way what is good or evil and useful or useless differs for each person. This is why we need education, so that we might learn how to adjust our preconceived notions of the rational and irrational in harmony with nature. In sorting this out, we don’t simply rely on our estimate of the value of external things, but also apply the rule of what is in keeping with one’s character.” – Epictetus
  • It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own opinions of things. It’s as if we’re adhering to invisible scripts – following instructions or patterns we don’t even understand.
  • The more you question these scripts and subject them to the rigorous test of your education, the more you’ll be your own compass.
  • You’ll have convictions and thoughts that are your own and belong to no one else.
  • Character is a powerful defence in a world that would love to be able to seduce you, buy you, tempt, and change you.
  • If you know what you believe and why you believe it, you’ll avoid poisonous relationships, toxic jobs, fair-weather friends, and any number of ills that afflict people who haven’t thought through their deepest concerns. (30/04)

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