The Daily Stoic: Right Action

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:

Part 2: The Discipline of Action


Right Action

  • “First tell yourself what kind of person you want to be, then do what you have to do. For in nearly every pursuit we see this to be the case. Those in athletic pursuit first choose the sport they want, and then do that work.” – Epictetus
  • Spend some real, uninterrupted time thinking about what’s important to you, and what your priorities are.
  • Then work towards that, and forsake the rest.
  • It’s not enough to just wish and hope. One must act – and act right. (02/05)

  • “Those who receive the bare theories immediately want to spew them, as an upset stomach does its food. First digest your theories and you won’t throw them up. Otherwise they will be raw, spoiled, and not nourishing. After you’ve digested them, show us the changes in your reasoned choices, just like the shoulders of gymnasts display their diet and training, and as the craft of artisans show in what they’ve learned.” – Epictetus
  • The justification for philosophy is when “one brings together sound teaching with sound conduct” – Musonious Rufus
  • Instead of simply quoting philosophy, convey the message instead through your actions. (03/05)

  • “How much better is it to be known for doing well by many than for living extravagantly? How much more worthy than spending on sticks and stones is it to spend on people?” – Musonious Rufus (04/05)

  • “Then what makes a beautiful human being? Isn’t it the presence of human excellence? Young friend, if you wish to be beautiful, then work diligently at human excellence. And what is that? Observe those whom you praise without prejudice. The just or the unjust? The just. The even-tempered or the undisciplined? The even-tempered. The self-controlled or the uncontrolled? The self-controlled. In making yourself that kind of person, you will become beautiful—but to the extent you ignore these qualities, you’ll be ugly, even if you use every trick in the book to appear beautiful.” – Epictetus
  • Our standards of beauty are incredibly un-stoic in that we prize things people have almost no control over.
  • Is it really beautiful to win the genetic lottery? Or should beauty be contingent on the choices, actions and attributes we develop?
  • An even keel, a sense of justice, a commitment to duty. These are beautiful traits – and they go much deeper than appearances. (06/05)

  • “God laid down this law, saying: if you want some good, get it from yourself.” – Epictetus
  • Do good things.
  • Any other source of joy is outside your control or is nonrenewable. (07/05)

  • “Where is Good? In our reasoned choices. Where is Evil? In our reasoned choices. Where is that which is neither Good nor Evil? In the things outside of our own reasoned choice.” – Epictetus
  • The right thing to do always comes from our reasoned choice.
  • Not whether something is rewarded. Not whether something will succeed, but whether it is the right choice. (08/05)

  • “Let us therefore set out whole-heartedly, leaving aside our many distractions and exert ourselves in this single purpose, before we realize too late the swift and unstoppable flight of time and are left behind. As each day arises, welcome it as the very best day of all, and make it your own possession. We must seize what flees.” – Seneca
  • You only get one shot at today, before it is gone and lost forever.
  • Will you fully inhabit all of today? (09/05)

  • On the subject of statues of great people: “your ancestors set up those trophies, not that you may gaze at them in wonder, but that you may also imitate the virtues of the men who set them up.” – Seneca (10/05)

  • “The greatest portion of peace of mind is doing nothing wrong. Those who lack self-control live disoriented and disturbed lives.” – Seneca
  • There are immense costs of doing wrong, to society, and to the perpetrator.
  • When people reject ethics and discipline, chaos and misery often follow. (11/05)

  • “Kindness is invincible, but only when it’s sincere, with no hypocrisy or faking. For what can even the most malicious person do if you keep showing kindness and, if given the chance, you gently point out where they went wrong—right as they are trying to harm you?” – Marcus Aurelius
  • What if the next time you were treated badly, you responded with unmitigated kindness?
  • What if you could “love your enemies, do good to those that hate you”?
  • The Bible says that when you can do something nice and caring to a hateful enemy, it’s like “heap[ing] burning coals on his head.” The expected reaction to hatred is more hatred. When this doesn’t occur, the enemy is embarrassed. It’s a shock to their system – it makes you both better.
  • Most rudeness, meanness, and cruelty are a mask for deep-seated weakness. Kindness in these situations is only possible for people of great strength. You have that strength. Use it. (12/05)

  • “Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running . . . therefore, if you want to do something make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead. The same principle is at work in our state of mind. 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
  • “We are what we repeatedly do, therefore, excellence is no an act but a habit.” – Aristotle
  • The Stoics add that we are also a product of our thoughts – “Such as are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind.” – Marcus Aurelius (13/05)

  • “Those obsessed with glory attach their well-being to the regard of others, those who love pleasure tie it to feelings, but the one with true understanding seeks it only in their own actions. . . . Think on the character of the people one wishes to please, the possessions one means to gain, and the tactics one employs to such ends. How quickly time erases such things, and how many will yet be wiped away.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • If your happiness is dependent on accomplishing certain goals, what happens if fate intervenes? What if you’re snubbed? If outside events intterrupt? What if you do achieve everything but find that nobody is impressed? That’s the problem with letting your happiness be determined by things you can’t control. It’s an insane risk.
  • We should take pleasure from our actions – in taking the right actions – rather than the results that come from them.
  • Our ambition should not be to win, then, but to play with our full effort.
  • Our intention is not to be thanked or recognised, but to help and to do what we think is right.
  • Our focus is not on what happens to us, but on how we respond.
  • In this, we will always find contentment and resilience. (14/05)

  • “Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess as if they were yours, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours. But watch yourself, that you don’t value these things to the point of being troubled if you should lose them.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Stop trying to get what others have. Fight the urge to gather and hoard. That’s not the right way to live and act.
  • Appreciate and take advantage of what you already have, and let that attitude guide your actions. (15/05)

  • “If you don’t wish to be a hot-head, don’t feed your habit. Try as a first step to remain calm and count the days you haven’t been angry. I used to be angry every day, now every other day, then every third or fourth . . . if you make it as far as 30 days, thank God! For habit is first weakened and then obliterated. When you can say ‘I didn’t lose my temper today, or the next day, or for three or four months, but kept my cool under provocation,’ you will know you are in better health.” – Epictetus
  • Success in any domain is often a matter of momentum. Once you get a little, it’s easier to keep it going.
  • Start with one day doing whatever it is, be it managing your temper, wandering eyes or procrastination.
  • Then do the same the following day, and the day after that. Build a chain and then work not to break it. (16/05)

  • “Show me someone sick and happy, in danger and happy, dying and happy, exiled and happy, disgraced and happy. Show me! By God, how much I’d like to see a Stoic. But since you can’t show me someone that perfectly formed, at least show me someone actively forming themselves so, inclined in this way. . . . Show me!” – Epictetus
  • Instead of seeing philosophy as an end to which one aspires, see it as something one applies. Not occasionally, but over the course of a life – making incremental progress along the way.
  • Sustained execution, not shapeless epiphanies.
  • You require constant work and serious training every day if we are ever to approach that perfect form.
  • But remember in your own journey of self-improvement: one never arrives. The sage – the perfect Stoic who behaves perfectly in every situation – is an ideal, not an end. (17/05)

  • “Pay attention to what’s in front of you—the principle, the task, or what’s being portrayed.” – Marcus Aurelius (18/05)

  • “That’s why the philosophers warn us not to be satisfied with mere learning, but to add practice and then training. For as time passes we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite, and hold opinions the opposite of what we should.” – Epictetus
  • Simply knowing isn’t enough. It must be absorbed into the muscles and the body. It must become part of us. Or we risk losing it the second that we experience stress or difficulty. (19/05)

  • “What’s the point of having countless books and libraries, whose titles could hardly be read through in a lifetime. The learner is not taught, but burdened by the sheer volume, and it’s better to plant the seeds of a few authors than to be scattered about by many.” – Seneca
  • There is no prize for having read the most books before you die.
  • What if, when it came to reading and learning, you prioritised quality over quantity?
  • What if you read a few great books deeply, instead of briefly skimming all of the newest books?
  • Your shelves might be emptier, but you brain and your life would be fuller. (20/05)

  • Seneca writes that unbruised prosperity is weak and easy to defeat in the ring, but “a man who has been at constant feud with misfortunes acquires a skin calloused by suffering.” This man, he says, fights all the way to the ground and never gives up. (21/05)

  • “You get what you deserve. Instead of being a good person today, you choose instead to become one tomorrow.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • “I don’t complain about the lack of time . . . what little I have will go far enough. Today—this day—will achieve what no tomorrow will fail to speak about. I will lay siege to the gods and shake up the world.” – Seneca
  • “We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.'” – Steven Pressfield
  • Today, not tomorrow, is the day that we can start to be good. (22/05)

  • “Show me that the good life doesn’t consist in its length, but in its use, and that it is possible—no, entirely too common—for a person who has had a long life to have lived too little.” – Seneca
  • The best way to live a full life is by focusing on what is here right now, on the task you have at hand – big or small.
  • By pouring ourselves fully and intentionally into the present, it “gentle[s] the passing of time’s precipitous flight.” – Seneca (23/05)

  • “You say, good fortune used to meet you at every corner. But the fortunate person is the one who gives themselves a good fortune. And good fortunes are a well-tuned soul, good impulses and good actions.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • “Diligence is the mother of good luck.” – Proverb
  • “I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have.” – Coleman Cox
  • You can hope that good fortune and luck come your way, or you can prepare yourself to be lucky by focusing on doing the right thing at the right time – and, ironically, render lucky mostly unnecessary in the process. (24/05)

  • “Joy for human beings lies in proper human work. And proper human work consists in: acts of kindness to other human beings, disdain for the stirrings of the senses, identifying trustworthy impressions, and contemplating the natural order and all that happens in keeping with it.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • When you hear the Stoics brush aside certain emotions or material luxuries, it’s not because they don’t enjoy them. It’s not because the Stoic life is one bereft of happiness or fun.
  • The Stoics simply mean to help us find our essence – to experience the joy of proper human work. (25/05)

  • “I’m constantly amazed by how easily we love ourselves above all others, yet we put more stock in the opinions of others than in our own estimation of self. . . . How much credence we give to the opinions our peers have of us and how little to our very own!” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Although we control our own opinions, we don’t control what other people think – about us least of all.
  • For this reason, putting ourselves at the mercy of those opinions and trying to gain the approval of others are dangerous endeavours.
  • Don’t spend much time thinking about what other people think.
  • Think about what you think. Think instead about the results, about the impact, about whether it is the right thing to do. (26/05)

  • “Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.” – Zeno
  • The little things add up. Someone is a good person not because they say they are, but because they take good actions.
  • One does not magically get one’s act together – it is a matter of mant individual choices.
  • It’s a matter of getting up at the right time, making your bed, resisting shortcuts, investing in yourself, doing your work. And make no mistake: while the individual action is small, its cumulative impact is not.
  • Think about all the small choices you make today: do you know which are the right way and which are they easy way? Choose the right way, and watch as all these little things add up toward transformation. (27/05)

  • “The first thing to do—don’t get worked up. For everything happens according to the nature of all things, and in a short time you’ll be nobody and nowhere, even as the great emperors Hadrian and Augustus are now. The next thing to do—consider carefully the task at hand for what it is, while remembering that your purpose is to be a good human being. Get straight to doing what nature requires of you, and speak as you see most just and fitting—with kindness, modesty, and sincerity.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Marcus’ formula for decision making:
    • First, don’t get upset – because that will colour your decision negatively and make it harder than it needs to be.
    • Second, remember the purpose and principles you value most.
    • Running actions through this filter will eliminate the bad choices and highlight the right ones.
    • Summary: Don’t get upset. Do the right thing. That’s it. (28/05)

  • “Work nourishes noble minds.” – Seneca
  • The mind and body are there to be used – they begin to turn on themselves when not put to some productive end.
  • This kind of fustration is an everyday reality for a lot of people. They leave so much of their potential unfufilled because they have jobs where they don’t really do much or because they have too much time on their hands.
  • Worse is when we try to push these feelings away by buying things, going out, fighting, creating drama – indulging in the empty calories of existence instead of finding the real nourishment.
  • The solution is simple. Get out there and work. (29/05)

  • “I can’t call a person a hard worker just because I hear they read and write, even if working at it all night. Until I know what a person is working for, I can’t deem them industrious. . . . I can if the end they work for is their own ruling principle, having it be and remain in constant harmony with Nature.” – Epictetus
  • We tend to associate busyness with goodness and believe that spending many hours at work should be rewarded.
  • Instead, evaluate what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and where accomplishing it will take you. If you don’t have a good answer, then stop. (30/05)

  • “What is your vocation? To be a good person.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • The Stoics believed, above all else, that our job on this Earth is to be a good human being.
  • It’s a basic duty, yet we are experts at coming up with excuses for avoiding it. (31/05)

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