Stoicism, William B. Irvine - Book Summary

William B. Irvine – a philosopher, scholar and practitioner of Stoicism. He knew about this lifestyle while searching for documents to write his own philosophical book.

As he took the time to delve deeply into Stoicism, he was struck by the noble virtues and passionate lives of the ancient Greek and Roman stoics (who lived in the 20th century). 1-3 BC). So he applied these lifestyle techniques to his own daily life to test whether they would benefit the lives of modern people. The results he got were beyond expectations.

“Practing stoicism, I always maintain sustainable joy in my daily life, because I no longer blame, I know how to be grateful, I know how to live in the present instead of worrying about the future. In the future, I know how to transform negative emotions. I no longer cling to the situation, can easily accept whatever happens in life.”

Realizing the benefits of Stoicism, he distilled down the practical philosophies, or psychological techniques, that he found most useful, and incorporated them into this book. In his opinion, this is the most suitable book for those who have not found a philosophy of life for themselves - those who easily lead a wrong life because they do not understand what brings happiness and true meaning to life. their life.

Stoicism is self-control techniques that we humans can practice for peace and lightness and in life.

According to this philosophy of life, the two main causes of human suffering are insatiable greed and preoccupation with things beyond one's control. To overcome them, we need to practice the following psychological techniques.

Technique 1 – Imagine the negative.

We humans always tend to dream of material things we do not have and do not appreciate the things we have and have. Therefore, we always seem to be dissatisfied, never satisfied with our current life. Achieving one thing and expecting something greater – that is greed.

One of the techniques the Stoics used to tame greed is to periodically practice negative visualization of what we have, in other words, thinking that what we have will no longer be mine.

For example, periodically imagine that your spouse is about to leave, your car is about to be stolen, you may lose your job, or even tomorrow we may not be on earth. This life is impermanent, no one knows what to expect, if unfortunately those things happen, what will you do today so that when you lose what you have, you will have no regrets?

Contemplating this question will make us have a deeper perspective on what is really valuable in our lives, be grateful for what we have, cherish the people around us, live as we are. today is the last day of life instead of spending time dreaming about things that we haven't had - things that make us stressed, anxious & tired. Why do we have to live in such self-created dissatisfaction?

Note that thinking & worrying are two different aspects. Thinking is an exercise involving the mind, we practice without affecting our mood, and anxiety does.

For example, if a father periodically imagines that his daughter will have to go away one day and will not be with him forever, that father tends to cherish every moment with her child, not trading time with her child for work. or other relationships (because he doesn't take your child's presence for granted and will last forever, so he will do things so that when you leave, he won't regret it) than a father who doesn't force use this technique, because he thinks you will be with him for a long time.

As you will see, this technique makes us pessimistic. But in the author's experience, it makes him feel more optimistic & happy because he knows how to enjoy and appreciate what he has, instead of always complaining. This technique enables us to be satisfied with the little things of everyday life. It's not a weakness, it's a blessing.

The author advises that we should only apply negative visualization a few times a week. The rest of the time, enjoy life, live it to the fullest instead of worrying and moody.

Besides the benefits of overcoming our greed and insatiable desires, this technique can also help us:

  • Prepare yourself for sudden negative change. It is easy to accept negative things without letting it affect us too strongly, in other words, not to cling to the good things that we have. No matter how bad things are, we can accept them.
  • Appreciate the small everyday things, don't take it for granted. From there, we will complain less, be less dissatisfied with what we do not have.
  • Think more deeply about what is truly valuable in your life.
  • Controlling anger towards loved ones – the group that often suffers from our negative emotions.

Technique 2 – Three Powers of Control (Clearly dividing everything that happens to you).

According to stoicism, everything in the world falls into one of three categories:

  • Something we have complete control over, like our values, our goals, how we react, our emotions, our attitudes, our preferences, or our habits.
  • Something we can only partially control, like the outcome of a contest or a set goal.
  • Things we can't control, like circumstances, compliments, or things that happen to us.

In order to lead a calm life, the Stoics practiced focusing on what we can control and ignoring the other two. Don't want things for which the outcome does not depend on you. Stoicism is doing your best to achieve certain changes regardless of the outcome. This will help us reduce the source of suffering when we do not achieve the goal as expected.

For example, in a competitive game, what you should focus on is trying your best, not competing to win because you have no control over that. What you can do is try your best. Only when your mind is focused on this will you not feel frustrated, sad when the results are not as desired, because you have already done the best you can.

When you master the technique of clearly dividing everything that happens to you, you will know how to live centered on yourself, no longer being interrupted by the outside world or the compliments of others. .

Technique 3 – Believe in the theory of destiny

If we want to live a peaceful life, the Stoics advise us that instead of wanting everything to go our way, we should do our will according to everything that heaven and earth have arranged. In other words, we need to learn how to adapt to life situations and joyfully accept everything that fate has arranged for us. Whatever role life gives us, we need to give our best in that role.

This is not about living up to fate, but confidently accepting every seed, good or bad, and trying to do everything to make it grow as much as possible in a way that we believe brings value & meaning for your life.

Mastering this technique helps us to live calmly because we will no longer have the tendency to blame, complain, and blame fate. If you see yourself as a victim, you will never have the future you want, because sitting there blaming won't change anything. Only when you understand that it is you who is responsible for your life, then you can take actions to strive towards a better life.

Technique 4 – Self-restraint

This technique is said to be the most difficult technique in stoicism. The Stoics suggest that, by periodically practicing austerity & doing things that make us uncomfortable, for example choosing to take a bus instead of a private car, choosing not to turn on the air conditioner during the summer, eating simple frugally while having good food conditions, or even dressing stylishly when it's cold, etc. will forge one's own strength.

In other words, the above methods can help improve the body's resistance to any fluctuations, all disasters that may arise suddenly in the future, so that we will be less vulnerable when experiencing emotions. feelings of pain, discomfort, or need. According to the Stoics, a person accustomed to living only with comforts may not be able to overcome the shocks that come to his life.

Another application in this technique is to actively refuse pleasures such as sensuality, spending, and binge eating. Actively sacrifice those trivial pleasures to fulfill the obligation to do things that create value for the community. The more luxurious experiences we experience, the more velvet and silk we experience, the more it stimulates us to crave more unnecessary things.

Stoic people do not worry about poverty, nor indulge in pleasures when they have a full life, because they always see money as a tool to serve their purpose and mission, not their master. People drown them in pleasure, so they don't cling to it.

Remember, a life of indulgence and self-indulgence, self-centeredness will never bring us a life of happiness, serenity and true meaning.

When we practice well the technique of periodically living more miserable than our current condition & actively refusing to enjoy pleasure, we will practice the strength of the will to BE OWNER. Like muscle strength, willpower is something that the more you practice, the more consistent you become.

We can do things others dare not & refuse to do things others cannot resist. Live the life you want, don't let your child overwhelm you. According to the Stoics, a meaningful life for the community & a clean life gives us time to relax, while a licentious life will not give us a moment's rest.

Technique 5 – Reflection and self-observation

This technique is practiced by taking a certain amount of time each day to reflect on the events that happen to you. Examining how we react to each event & contrasting them with the principles of stoicism will help us gauge our own progress in this lifestyle.

In addition, one statement that the Stoics advise us to regularly reflect on is the meaning of what we do. We humans have the most meaning when we make a positive impact on the community. Spending days just having fun or focusing on things that only benefit us is unlikely to bring us joy or inner peace, in the long run.

Technique 6 – Stay calm when interacting with others

We cannot do anything without the help of our fellow human beings, no one can survive alone. So, we need to know how to build and maintain relationships with others selectively and think about ways to deal with words from others that affect our calm. Here is the advice of the Stoics:

  • Facing hate:  Always keep in mind that the seed of jealousy will destroy the calmness & good qualities in one's own person (such as compassion, generosity). So, try to get rid of it as soon as possible, since it first rekindled in us. If the other person does things that make it difficult to forgive, the smartest revenge is to forget and not become like them.
  • Facing Anger:  Whenever you get angry about someone else's shortcomings, reflect on your own. For example, when we are angry at a colleague's mistake, remembering the mistakes we made, this will help us to minimize the discomfort. Also, get in the habit of turning every sign of anger into the opposite. For example, instead of scowling, smile, relax your face, think about love. Two opposing thoughts cannot exist at the same time, so your anger will gradually dissipate.
  • Coping with the grief of losing someone important:  Reason is our best defense against suffering. Instead of regretting losing someone, learn to be grateful that you once had them & think about how he or she wants you to live. Happy happy or forever miserable?
  • Dealing with Insults:  According to the Stoics, there are two ways to respond to insults while remaining calm.

Method 1:  Silence, refuse to participate in the fight. This way of reacting will make the other person feel that you are in a higher class & do not accept their unconscious words. This can make them feel more uncomfortable than being attacked in return.

Method 2:  If the more silent, the more they encroach, we are forced to respond. Practice responding in a humorous way by saying that you are even worse than their insult. This response will show them that you are confident enough to be immune to the insults, that you only see the insults as a joke.

Author's advice for practicing Stoic techniques

  • Practice quietly, don't let anyone know so you don't have to hear the judgment
  • Don't try to master all stoic techniques at once. Use one technique well, then move on to another.
  • The order of techniques when applying (from easy to difficult): negative visualization (should be applied in both favorable and difficult times) -> the technique of believing in destiny -> technique of the three fists control -> Techniques to keep calm when interacting with others -> techniques of self-restraint. While practicing all of these techniques, always remember to apply the periodic self-reflection technique.