William Irvine: How To Live a Stoic Life [The Knowledge Project Ep. #123] - Farnam Street - Deepstash

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The Stoic's Guide to Living a Good Life

The Stoic's Guide to Living a Good Life

The Stoics were a school of philosophy in Ancient Greece. Their ideas on how to live a good life were based on human nature, which is why those ideas are still useful and relevant to this day.

A good life is a life that’s full of, to the extent possible, of positive emotions like delight and even joy, and relatively without negative emotions like anger, and anxiety, and regret.

But how to get there?

  1. Negative visualization, or how to appreciate what you have and not take things for granted.
  2. Focus on what you can control. Ignore what you can't.
  3. When making decisions, first map out your options.


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Negative Visualization

Negative Visualization

Take 2 minutes to think of something that you enjoy having in your life. Your friends, your hobbies, your health, or even your eyesight. 

Now imagine that it is no longer in your life. For instance, close your eyes and imagine you can never open them again. How does this feel? Then, open your eyes. 

Don't dwell on the loss. Enjoy the fact that the loss is imaginary. Repeat this exercise daily, with different things you enjoy in your life.

The idea is to enjoy what life has to offer, but without clinging to it or being addicted. You’re always prepared for things to take a turn for the worse.


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Only spend your time and attention on what you can control

You can't control what's happened in the past.

You can control what you learned from it.

You can't control what will happen in the future.

You can control your actions in preparing for the future.

You can't control what others think of you.

You can control your actions towards others.

You can't control whether you will overcome a challenge.

You can control the goal you set for yourself. Here are some goals you can control:

  • performing to the best of your ability
  • succeeding or failing with grace
  • enjoying the challenge

You can't control your emotional responses.

You can control your actions afterwards.


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First rule of decision-making: understand your options

You can put all the thought you want, but one thing is for sure and that is that if you don’t even consider the optimal option, there’s no way you can pick it.

Usually when making a decision, there are one or two obvious options. Pretend they are off the table. What else is left? 

Even if the obvious option is the correct one, spending some time to map out all of your options helps you understand the problem better. It can help to understand why the first option was correct.


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I like math, data, science, programming, and game design.

A quick introduction to Stoic philosophy. William Irvine is the author of many popular books on the Stoics, including A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.

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