What Is Practical Stoicism?
Practical Stoicism is a resource to help you thrive in life.
My name is Ramses, the guy behind this project.
I'm a philosopher in my early thirties. Not a philosopher in the academic sense of the word, mind you. My lab is not on a campus but rooted in life.
Through insights from ancient philosophy and modern psychology, I show you how to flourish. You'll learn how to think clearly and approach life's challenges positively.
10 second bio
I'm a practical philosopher, studying and applying knowledge to make wise decisions.
Currently pursuing my second bachelor's degree (psychology).
A teacher by training, I love to build learning communities.
Resident of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
My life philosophy is Stoicism.
I'm also interested in:
- Positive psychology
- Mental models
- Mindfulness meditation
In my weekly newsletter I share actionable wisdom. Join here.
My mission: How to make wise decisions
People often come to me with their problems. Yet I rarely offer a solution, and almost always ask many difficult questions.
So why me? What do I have to offer that even people who barely know me will open up and share their stories? I’m far from being a sage. Still, people come to me with their thoughts and feelings in the hope I’ll be able to help them in some way.
The reason? They’ve seen the changes I made and how those have positively shaped my life.
It’s only been recently I’ve been able to think clearly and make wise decisions. For many years I made one bad decision after the other. I was hurting myself physically and emotionally by not taking care of my body nor my thoughts.
At one point I looked like the Michelin guy: bloated, with a fake smile.
Life caused me to rethink my journey, and to go back to college to study psychology. Read on, and you'll see how I now approach decision making, and why I make smarter decisions every day.
My thinking is mostly based on three pillars that fit together tightly:
- Stoic philosophy
- Mental models
Being a former fundamentalist Christian, I thought I’d never pour through old books for wisdom again. For a long time after my deconversion, I believed modern insights are all we need to live a good life
I was wrong. We need all the insights from all of history.
Through friends, I discovered Stoicism, a Hellenistic philosophy that’s been around for over 2,300 years. Very few ancient Stoic texts survive, but when I read the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius I was intrigued. I saw very quickly that Stoicism is a life philosophy that helps you think and approach reality in an effective way.
Stoic ideas have survived to our time in more forms. Modern psychotherapies like Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) draw extensively from Stoicism. The scientific method and academic community have proven the Stoics right.
Stoics had good reason to call themselves “physicians of the mind”.
For example, the Stoic teacher Epictetus caught the key to a balanced life when he said:
Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
When I encountered more of Epictetus’s hard-hitting wisdom, I was hooked:
What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things.
Since I can remember I’ve been a worrier, especially about things I cannot change. If things didn’t go my way I would always get very emotional, angry even.
Stoicism has enabled me to become a calm person by helping me see it’s only worthwhile to focus on my own actions and the change I can reasonably effect.
To me, Stoicism is an elaborate mental model, a way to look at the world and make the best decision that’s available in every moment. Stoic philosophers have been known throughout history for their logic and practical advice. In essence, they were early model thinkers.
A mental model is a description of someone’s thought process about how things work in reality. It’s an approach to problem-solving and to help shape behavior.
One thinker I admire is Martin Seligman, co-founder of the positive psychology movement. He came up with the PERMA model, which describes how we can achieve a life of fulfillment, happiness, and meaning.
PERMA stands for:
Positive emotion — The ability to stay optimistic and look at situations constructively.
Engagement — Full attention on a present activity that absorbs you, leading to a flow state.
Relationships — Realize we are social animals and need other people to thrive.
Meaning — Find your strengths and ways to contribute, or: “why am I on earth?”
Accomplishments — Find realistic goals that add value to your life and of those around you.
Another thinking tool I find useful is journaling (yes, this is a verb now).
Every morning I write about three things I’m grateful for. I also think ahead of what I have planned for the day, and try to decide what situations might challenge my calm or healthy habits. I then think of ways of how I can act virtuously (in the Stoic sense), and write a piece of advice to myself on how to behave.
Some days my morning advice is short and resembles Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, other days it’s more like Seneca’s famous Letters to Lucilius.
In the evening I review my day, and ask myself four questions:
- What did I do well today?
- What did I do poorly today?
- What bad habits have I checked today?
- What opportunities did I miss today?
By using mental models, I get to make smarter decisions and build habits. It’s not necessarily my wisdom that shines through in my actions, but the wisdom of great thinkers that influenced me. What matters to me is what works to flourish in life, not if my ideas are original.
Mental models have caused me to eat clean, work out smartly so I get stronger instead of destroying myself, and treat others with dignity and respect.
Life philosophy and mental models enable me to look at reality through the lens of rationality. Increasingly I accept things as they happen, without worrying about what could be.
Daily, we deal with many people, all with their own thoughts and emotions. Everyone has goals they want to reach, and sometimes they clash with our goals. So what’s the best way to handle this?
Accept humanity. We all have flaws and act unconsciously time and time again. It’s easy to see the flaws in others and forget our own. By accepting the way we are, conscious change becomes possible.
I no longer worry excessively about things I cannot change. Instead, I look at the situation and see what’s in my power to change. I then set out to approach the situation with a fitting mental model.
I now aim to do the best I can, not to get a specific outcome. This helps me accept any outcome. I know I did all I could and am grateful for any lessons I’ve learned in the process.
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