Things I Wish I Learned Sooner: Stoicism & Minimalism As Your Life’s Compass

Things I Wish I Learned Sooner: Stoicism & Minimalism As Your Life’s Compass

(a 8 minute read)

I know these topics have been talked to death by pretty much every YouTuber out there but don’t tune out yet. Instead, imagine this: you’ve been stranded thousands of miles from home with no money or possessions.

Such a predicament would make many people despair and curse their awful fate. But for Zeno of Cyprus, it became the foundation of his life’s work and legacy. The once-wealthy merchant lost everything when he was shipwrecked in Athens around 300 BC. With not much else to do, he wandered into a book shop, became intrigued by reading about Socrates, and proceeded to seek out and study with the city’s noted philosophers.

As Zeno began educating his own students, he originated the philosophy known as Stoicism, whose teachings of virtue, tolerance, and self-control have inspired generations of thinkers and leaders. It has been practiced by kings, presidents, artists, writers and entrepreneurs alike. Marcus Aurelius, Alexander the Great, George Washington and Nelson Mandela are just a few names on a list spanning thousands of years.

They all followed some of the principles of Stoic philosophy because these simply stood the test of time — and things that work for such a large part of history are usually worth trying out.


The Origins

The name Stoicism comes from the Stoa Poikile, the place where Zeno and his followers gathered for discussion. Today, we generally use the word stoic to mean someone who remains calm under pressure and avoids emotional extremes. But while this captures important aspects of Stoicism, the original philosophy was more than just an attitude. The Stoics believed that everything around us operates according to a web of cause and effect, resulting in a rational structure of the universe. And while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things.

Rather than imagining an ideal society, the Stoic tries to deal with the world as it is — and not how they think it should be — while pursuing self-improvement through four cardinal virtues: justice, treating others with fairness even when they have done wrong; practical wisdom, the ability to navigate complex situations in a logical, informed, and calm manner; courage, not just in extraordinary circumstances, but facing daily challenges with clarity and integrity; and temperance, the exercise of self-restraint and moderation in all aspects of life.

As Seneca, one of the most famous Roman Stoics wrote, “Sometimes, even to live is an act of courage.” But while Stoicism focuses on personal improvement, it’s not a self-centered philosophy nor does it encourage passivity. The idea is that only people who have cultivated virtue and self-control in themselves can bring positive change in others.


Marcus Aurelius

One of the most famous Stoic writers was also one of Rome’s greatest emperors. Over the course of his 19-year reign, over 400 years after its creation, Stoicism gave Marcus Aurelius the resolve to lead the Empire through two major wars, while dealing with the loss of many of his children.

Centuries later, Aurelius’s journals would guide and comfort Nelson Mandela through his 27-year imprisonment during his struggle for racial equality in South Africa. After his release and eventual victory, Mandela stressed peace and reconciliation, believing that while the injustices of the past couldn’t be changed, his people could confront them in the present and seek to build a better, more just future — a true Stoic.

Stoicism was an active school of philosophy for several centuries in Greece and Rome. As a formal institution, it faded away, but its influence has continued to this day.

One particularly influential Stoic was the philosopher Epictetus who wrote that suffering stems not from the events in our lives, but from our judgments about them. This has resonated strongly with modern psychology and the self-help movement. For example, rational emotive behavioral therapy focuses on changing the self-defeating attitudes people form about their life circumstances — sound familiar?


Applying It To Your Life

This is great and all but how can you actually apply this philosophy to your advantage?

Your mind is the strongest tool you have, it commands everything you do and think. That’s why you have to train to control your thoughts and emotions by following the basic principles of Stoicism. The best way to do this is by building habits around these principles.

This is easier said than done — habits usually take form after around 4–5 weeks and become automatic behavior after another few weeks. That being said, getting rid of a habit also takes a lot of time and you can imagine how powerful they therefore truly are.

Because habits can be so hard to establish, you should focus on building (or shedding) only one habit at a time. This can get tough because we as humans get used to our comfort very easily and we like to avoid stepping out of that comfort zone — unfortunately, that way you will never reach your full potential and find out what could be possible.

Meditating, reading, working out, eating healthy, showing gratitude and living the moment to the fullest are just some examples of habits that follow the principles of the philosophy. Implement one at a time into your daily routines and you will become more productive, energized and open-minded and, as a result, more successful. To easily remember the principles, think of them like this:

Justice: Just because someone wrongs you doesn’t mean you should return that. Instead, do the honorable thing and stand above that.

Practical Wisdom: Cultivating your emotional intelligence not only allows for the abstract benefit of handling complex situations in a more logical manner but also allows you to make better decisions, differentiate between yourself and your work and push through mistakes and failures more easily.

Courage: I’ve talked a lot about this by now so I’ll keep it to the point. Going on this journey will take a lot of courage from you and if you can overcome that, your chances of success will be infinitely higher.

Temperance: Self-restraint and moderation in all aspects of life mean focusing on what’s truly important to you without falling for excess. This also leads me to the next philosophy I want to talk about:



For me, Minimalism is a form of expression of Stoic philosophy because it takes all of the principles from above and combines them into something you can apply directly to your life. Minimalism can be described as a way of life where you focus on what’s truly essential and valuable to yourself, your environment and your business. This can be implemented in the way you work (e.g., the Pareto Principle)

Are there toxic people in your life you don’t want to be around?

Get rid of them.

Is your apartment cluttered and full to the brim with stuff you don’t really use?

Get rid of that.

Now, as with everything in life, there’s also a healthy balance living this kind of lifestyle you have to watch out for. It’s ok to only focus on yourself for some time or to throw away (or donate) clothes you haven’t worn in ages but getting rid of everything is not the point.

You should only get rid of things that don’t add value to your life or are more of a curse than a blessing — if something is of value to you or brings you joy (e.g., your shelf full of books that technically only collect dust but have a deeper meaning to you, or an old toy you don’t use anymore but has joyful memories connected to it), keep it because why not?

Minimalist living shouldn’t look like someone sitting alone in an empty room. It’s about creating an environment that makes you more focused, productive and happier in the long run. Being mindful is what it’s all about; a Rolex tells the same time as a dollar watch and a Ferrari gets you as far as a Prius — if you find genuine joy in these things then go for them but go for the right reasons!

You can also apply this philosophy to other areas of your life, like your digital well-being. Organize your calendar, your workstation and devices to your preferences to have a better overview of everything going on. It can also be applied to your finances by keeping an eye on your earnings and expenses. This could be done in the form of a notebook where you write down all of your income sources and expenses or you could use an app on your phone to do that for you (after all, using the Digital Age to your advantage is what this book is about).

To cut down on your spending to make them more “minimalist”, ask yourself before buying something, “Do I have enough money to buy *this product* five times?” If the answer is yes, wait for another 24 hours or even longer to see if you still feel like buying it — this can reduce impulsive spending massively!

As you can see, these are small yet extremely effective tactics you could use to bring order into all areas of your life, step by step, to become a more productive and, in return, happier person.

If you follow the Stoic and Minimalist philosophies, you can bring changes in your life that will do more for you than any “shortcut” or “hack” ever could. It makes you more content with your situation, you know exactly what it is you need and want, and your actions can be in line with your goals because there’s less clutter to distract you. This doesn’t mean you have to think like this to be successful; it’s just something worth thinking about.

It sometimes feels like we solved the problem of scarcity and replaced it with the problem of abundance and these philosophies will help you manage that. For example, when it comes to spending you can think of it like this: the great times you have become a part of you; the great things you own collect dust or become trash. If you keep this in mind, the road you’re going on will be less bumpy and more enjoyable.

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