I Tried Stoicism for 7 Days8 min read
Recently, I’ve been in iPhone hell. I constantly check YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. This lack of focus has leaked into my life. I eat more snacks; I stay up later playing video games and complaining. These are not good qualities. My thoughts whirlpool around the most recent drama on Twitter or a news story, and inevitably, I feel worse.
Our life is what our thoughts make it.Marcus Aurelius
If I continued this way, which felt like running on a combination of a treadmill and a hamster wheel, my brain would explode.
I needed a change. Little did I know this change would be in the form of a fallen tree.
On a challenging hike with my brother one day, the trail was blocked by fallen trees, and it looked like we would have to turn around. He astonished me by saying, “The obstacle is the way.”
I said, “what?”
“The obstacle is the way; it’s an idea from Stoicism.” I didn’t know what stoicism was at the time; I heard it occasionally on YouTube, but I thought it was just some Ryan Holiday mumbo jumbo.
However, I later realized it made sense. We traversed the difficult path, and it made us stronger. I realized the mentality of beating the obstacle to become stronger could be applied to anything, anywhere, not just fallen trees. After that hike, I wanted to learn about stoicism. Maybe it was the answer to the treadmill hamster wheel.
I Was Weak
I began reading everything I could on stoicism; I read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, Discourses by Epictetus, and the Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato.
I was hooked.
Be courageous, focus on what you can control, experience hardship, embrace fate, and be strong.
Who knew self-improvement was a thing even 2,000 years ago?
Inwardly everything should be different but our outward face should conform with the crowdSeneca
a man is unhappy, though he reign the world over, if he does not consider himself supremely happyStilbo
You are an old man. Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.Marcus Aurelius
Stand up straight-not straightened.Marcus Aurelius
I collected all my favorite ideas, quotes, and principles from these books and developed a plan. Focusing on improving my mentality, body, and the people around me. I would:
- Wake up early
- Embrace Stillness
- Remind me I was going to die and bad things were likely to happen
- Embrace fate; the obstacle is the way
- Cultivate my friendships
And do some big challenges:
- 24 hours of no food
- Being in the cold with no jacket
- No sugar and no caffeine
- No complaining
Looking back on this day, I tried too much too soon.
Waking up early, journaling, meditating, embracing stillness, reminding myself I was going to die, reminding myself that my family might die, embracing obstacles, and cultivating friendships, were too much. I tried to accomplish it all, but I couldn’t.
It didn’t help that I didn’t have my morning cup of coffee and was experiencing the headache that all caffeine addicts know.
Oh yeah, and I couldn’t complain about it, either.
I thought the thought experiment was silly.
And guess what? I was also starting a 24-hour fast after dinner.
This might be tougher than I thought.
Day 2 – a 24 hour fast
Set aside now and then several days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, and with rough coarse clothing, and will ask yourself, is this what I so feared?Seneca
Mastering one’s appetites for food and drink is the beginning of and basis for self-control.Musonius Rufus
I planned not to drink any food or water for 24 hours. It was hard. The food wasn’t a big deal. However, the water was.
I found myself thirsty and with a headache.
It was difficult to focus; I tried reading, meditation, and even writing but proper good focus alluded me. I was also grumpy. This was hard but not impossible.
In the end, however, it wasn’t so bad. I could’ve done it again easily. What was I so afraid of?
Remember, I am still going through that list of bullet points every day. Wake, eat, shower, meditate, journal, think, and be still. This cycle was still difficult on day 3. I felt like I was wasting time like there was so much for me to do, so much I could accomplish, and I was wasting it writing in a book and staring at a wall.
While meditating, I thought, “this is a waste of time. I could be creating a YouTube video right now.” However, then, I remembered I wasn’t meant to complain.
After the meditation, I had to imagine the worst. It was day three of picturing my family and myself dead. Today, however, I noticed newfound gratitude. They aren’t dead today. I’m not dead today. I’m breathing. I was grateful for breathing, the clean air, the window, peace, and a soft bed.
Maybe things were turning around; maybe stoicism wasn’t dumb.
Day 4 – Being in the freezing cold with no protection
Challenge #2 was being outside in the freezing rain with no protection. It was cold at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It was rainy. I only wore a t-shirt and shorts. I planned to wade in an even colder creek.
Initially, there is that jolt of cold, “why am I doing this? Maybe I will get sick. I should go inside,” Then, my thinking brain takes over from my emotional brain, “this is good. You are strong; this will make you stronger; what is a bit of cold? Some wind? People in the army experience this for days while risking their lives, and you are ready to quit after five minutes?”
Then the shivers started, my body was rebelling, and I hadn’t even stepped into the river yet. I needed to do it, and not only that, I knew I could do it.
The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”Marcus Aurelius
The cold water was freezing, and yet again, everything inside me told me to get out, to end this stupid challenge and dry off. But I didn’t. I sat in the cold water and stood outside for another 10 minutes.
Stupid? Maybe. Challenging? Yes. Did it make me mentally tougher? Definitely.
The routine was becoming pleasurable. A surprising bonus was journaling and meditation. I always thought I had my plan established in my head, so I didn’t need to write anything down, but I was wrong. I was writing a brain dump, one main goal for the day, two things I was grateful for, and three mini-goals.
Writing down my goals and what I am grateful for in the morning journal helped crystallize the plans and alleviate some pressure in my brain, like letting the steam out of a boiler.
Meditation was helping me focus on my immediate environment. The sound of the wind, the pressure under my feet, the colder temperature, the sounds of the city, things I never paid attention to.
However, I was still craving coffee. Luckily, sugar wasn’t a large part of my diet beforehand, so I didn’t crave that. But coffee, I wanted coffee.
Day 6 – 2 hour Meditation
This was the hardest challenge for me but the most inspiring. Not eating and cold weather, I could brute force myself through. However, during a two-hour meditation, I was jittery. I felt like I was wasting time. My body was stiff. I wanted to quit six times in the first 30 minutes.
However, there was a magical moment after 30 minutes, where I fell into a blissful state. Everything was calm. I noted the stiffness and pain but realized it was only bad if I thought it was bad. So I noted it as neither positive nor negative and mentally moved on.
Thoughts and distractions passed through me; nothing could grip my calm brain; I watched thoughts like cars passing on a highway. I was separated from them. The remainder of the 90 minutes went by easily.
On the final day, I still wanted coffee badly. However, I restrained myself. I did my usual routine, tried to focus on not complaining, accepting fate, thinking that bad thing could happen, and the day was over.
Just call me Aurelius, Marcus Aurelius.
I am drinking coffee now, but honestly, that felt like the most challenging and least impactful part. The cold wasn’t bad, the lack of food and water was manageable, and the meditation was amazing.
The thought training was fantastic.
Stoicism, it seemed, could be applied to every aspect of my life and usually made things better. After a simple one-week experiment, I was more mentally tough, grateful for my things, and more in tune with my external and internal environment.
I will continue to journal, accept what happens, prepare for the worst, meditate, embrace obstacles, and not complain.
I’m going to drink coffee, though. Sorry Seneca.