César D. Velandia

3 Lessons from the Daily Stoic Challenge

I took the daily stoic challenge this summer. It is a 10-day program developed by author Ryan Holiday that will encourage you to implement ideas from the stoics into your daily live. Here are few things I learned during the challenge, if you read this I still strongly suggest you to enroll next session or study Holiday's excellent material on the topic.

1- Keep chaos in check, sort your life first

There is so much mess in our lives, from trivial things like our drawers, mobile apps, social network accounts to really important ones like our schedule, relationships or finances. Stoicism encourages keeping your matters sorted out. The way I see it, this idea stems from their reflections on the shortness of life. They key questions to be asking when sorting out are Do you really need this? and How much this thing/activity/relationship is absorbing from your life?

Believe me, it's the mark of a great man, and one rising above human weakness, to allow no part of his time to be skimmed off. Accordingly, such a person's life is extremely long because he's kept available for himself the whole of whatever amount of time he had —Seneca

It is very easy to fall into the trap of idleness and busyness these days. It might feel that you are just winding down and relaxing, of plowing through the issues in your way. What else could you be doing with that hours you just spent scrolling aimlessly through your social feeds? Have you asked yourself whether those are tasks/problems you want to be solving?

I think it boils down to being more appreciative of how you spend most of your day.

  • How many more minutes are you going to waste trying to find your keys on that messy desk? —Declutter, throw away, create a system

  • How many hours are you going to spend mindlessly browsing your social media filled with posts from people you barely remember? —Clean up your contact lists, mute, and limit usage

  • How many more unsatisfying coffee meetings are you going before you start saying "NO, thanks!"? —If it isn't a "hell yeah!" it's a NO!

  • How much money are you going to waste just because you avoid keeping track of your expenses and buying unnecessary things? —Embrace frugality, buy stuff that will last

  • How much emotional stress are you going to endure on that toxic relationship that you don't want? —Let go!

2- Embrace risk and discomfort, but be prepared

Perhaps the most important value promoted by Stoicism is that of courageous stillness in the face of adversity. You will be tested at some point, even if you live a sheltered life. Unless you start using those moments when things are on your favor to strengthen yourself, you won't have the training to deal with the hard blows that will certainly come at you. Be prepared. Test yourself, know that you can will be OK with very little and stand adverse circumstances if you have to.

The outcome of a trial might be determined by your preparation, it is not a matter of single moment of judgment. It's about you having prepared yourself to make the right choice. Start conditioning yourself through your habits, by pushing your limits and by knowing yourself. These three things require a substantial effort, don't believe you can just wing it when the time comes.

  • Will you speak truth and stand for what you believe? only if you have it clear yourself and can express your opinions with calm and fluency

  • If you were to lose everything that you own tomorrow will you be able to get back on your feet? Perhaps, but if you know you can live on very little you will be confident that you can regain anything else

  • How are you going to become the better version of yourself without overcoming that irrational fear? You will most likely find it unfounded and ridiculous once you face it.

3- Appreciate your time alone & enjoy the silence

Being alone can be extremely uncomfortable. Even without a person physically next to you, it is quite easy to reach out to hundreds of acquaintances and strangers in few seconds, wherever you are. Feeling uneasy while working? Play some video lecture on your second screen. If your commute is too long you can listen to a podcast or audiobook.

For some reason we inject white noise in almost everything we do. If you are driving alone, you probably have the radio on. I'm listening spotify while I write this. That's definitely not being alone.

There is no space for your own thoughts in a environment like that or at least not the meaningful kind.

Now at this moment, what are your thoughts? Is there something that matters to you that you would like to think about? Can you sustain an idea for 20 minutes and think/do nothing else? I think this is actually hard but can be trained as if it were a muscle. Silence is like a gym, where your thoughts exercise, some show up only for a few weeks, very few grow stronger over several years.

Next time I'm alone, I'll fight the urge to check my notifications, listen to music, or have a snack. And just let my mind wander and play with whatever idea feels important. If you want to take this one step further, try this "idea machine" habit, it works!