The key tools of Stoicism

“Discipline is Destiny: The Power of Self-Control” by Ryan Holiday

If you were asked to describe what Stoics look like, how would you describe them?

First and foremost, they are visibly calm and patient, able to wait for the right time and the right moment. They also have self control over their indulgences, and not letting impulses to undermine them. And while they still enjoy all the perks and luxuries in life, they do so within limits and nothing in excess. Everything in moderation, they would say.

They of course still get angry and can even be very passionate, but they won’t do anything out of anger. They respond, not react. They are able to not getting victory or criticism get into their head and affect them. They have the patience to not getting triggered by provocations, have the self restrain of avoiding all the quick fix scam or euphoria or gurus.

Stoics understand their own weak points, their triggers whether it is anxiety or aggression or lust, and how to contain them and address them. They also have the self-restraining ability from being trapped by a perfectionist prison, that you need everything to be perfect that it makes you refrain from doing things imperfectly and ended up not doing anything at all.

And instead, they have the strength and ability to finish the job through all the messiness, have intense focus while doing it, have the sense of urgency, but doing so by projecting grace under fire. They are quick, but not in a hurry. Indeed, while courage was defined as the willingness to put your ass on the line, Stoics have the ability to keep this particular ass in line, to go to the right length and no further.

Nevertheless, although they have the strength and endurance to weather any storm, they also have the decisiveness to cut loss, to step back, to throw in the towel when it’s a losing cause. It also means load management, knowing when to take a rest, giving their body enough time for recovery, taking a break, avoiding burnout, or simply to have a restful sleep. Everything is measured.

Moreover, Stoics are responsible with money, able to constrain themselves from splurging or wasting them on things that don’t matter. They also use time efficiently, use words wisely (brevity – not using two words if one word would do, or not using one if none would do), they also have the ability to put boundaries, to say no to all the unimportant things.

Last but not least, they keep their environment clean and minimalist. They keep themselves neat and tidy, dressing appropriately for the occasion and situation, demonstrating that they are in control over their outer appearance as well as their inner, aware of their surroundings, and can present themselves appropriately.

This, in a nutshell, is what discipline looks like. It is virtue no. 2 out of 4 on the four Stoic virtues of courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. And it is arguably the most visible trait of a practicing Stoic.

In another unmissable Ryan Holiday signature style of writing, this book illustrates the traits mentioned above through so many stories from history and its many prominent figures. It shows that discipline is the key feature of all successful people, and more importantly it shows how these great men and women implement them despite their shortcomings, unfriendly environment, or upbringing.

Holiday reflects these lessons from the incredible habits of Lou Gehrig, the resilience of Theodore Roosevelt, the Stoic nature of George Washington, the calm and dignified Queen Elizabeth II, the restraint of Dwight Eisenhower, the grounded nature of Angela Merkel, the practicality of John Wooden, the 100% effort of Jimmy Carter, the importance of load management from Harry Belafonte and Martin Luther King Jr., to cautionary tales from King George IV and Babe Ruth, and lessons from many others such as Martha Graham, Joyce Carol Oates, Booker T. Washington, Floyd Patterson, and as usual the Stoic greats like Cato, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius.

Now, of course discipline is not easy. But as Holiday remarks, “the good news is that because it’s hard, most people don’t do it. They don’t show up. They can’t even do one tiny thing a day. So yes, you’re alone, out there on the track in the rain. You’re the only one responding on Christmas. But having the lead is, by definition, a little lonely. This is also why it’s quiet in the morning. You have the opportunities all to yourself.”

And this is why discipline can be an edge. Discipline is the reason we get up and do our thing every single day, on time. It is what keeps us going even during hardship. It is what prevents us from risk and catastrophe. What helps us maintain our habit, our flow, even our savings. Discipline keeps us in check to do the right things, even if we don’t like it. It paved the road to the good life, it keeps us healthy and happy. Discipline is the key ingredient to shape our destiny.