The book, Stoicism: A Stoic Approach To Modern Life, is a fantastic introduction to Stoicism. It is short (a good thing in my mind) and introduces the reader to the Stoic concept of how to live well despite the inherent struggles in life. I asked the author, Tom Miles, a few questions about what drew him to Stoicism in an interview below.
Stoic Philosophy of Life
Question: What drew you to Stoicism as a philosophy to live by?
Tom Miles: The concept itself and the desire to become stronger. It was a term I had heard of growing up but I didn’t fully understand it. The first time I head someone explain it in terms that interested me was Tim Ferriss, and through his Blog. I liked the idea of it. A lot of us can relate to the desire to become stronger. When I read the basic premise, I was all in.
I wanted to be able to withstand harder times in my life. What better way to enhance this by practicing it before the hard times come.
Q: How does Stoicism help you in your day to day life?
TM: I’d be lying if I said I embodied its principles day to day, but I do what I can. Stoicism helps me in the same way exercise helps my body confidence, or meditation helps my emotional control. It’s reassuring to have confidence in an area where you know you have more capability. Much like a cage fighter would feel walking down the street. They have a different level of confidence/reassurance about entering a physical altercation. Not that they seek a fight, but they ‘know’ what they can do. I find this level of confidence freeing, which is wonderful to me.
However, I don’t rest on my laurels. I try to make time to push myself in areas where I don’t feel comfortable. This might be something as simple as standing instead of sitting. Not putting the window down in my car when I feel hot. Sitting with minor discomfort.
Stoicism on a day to day basis makes me feel stronger. The practice itself is humbling. Overall, I like this combination.
Q: What do you see as the most important message from Stoicism?
TM: Practice. Far too many people obsess about knowledge acquisition without practicing its methods. Myself included.
Generally speaking, I believe you benefit more from imperfect practice, than you will through infrequent application at an exceptional level.
My second choice would be awareness. I regularly fall into the trap of mindless comfort based decision making. By being aware of the actions we take, we have an opportunity to select a more challenging one.
Q: What habits do you have in place to practice the Stoic lifestyle?
TM: Meditation and exercise are my bedrock. Exercise allows me to feel physically uncomfortable on a regular basis. There are so many options to choose from, and I recommend that others choose the ones they are most uncomfortable with. Runners should train with heavy weights. Powerlifters should run.
If someone’s pursuing a particular sport, practice the elements you find most challenging. Minimize your weaknesses.
Meditation helps to control my monkey mind. Blaise Pascal’s quote is one of my all-time favorites:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone”.
Meditation is a deliberate practice to counter this issue. I’ve been meditating on and off for over 6 years now. The last 12 months have been more consistent for me, and unsurprisingly, they’ve yielded the best results.
Q: How difficult do you find it to practice Stoicism?
TM: I’ve always enjoyed exercise and sport, and more recently meditation. These areas of Stoic practice I do regularly, but I have to confess that I’ve never found myself living a completely Stoical life. I go through spells of purposely making life more difficult for myself, and in time I find myself searching for comfort once again.
As I mention above, awareness has been one of my biggest challenges. Perhaps this is why I value the importance of meditation so much. There’s a big difference between conscious comfort and unconscious comfort. I slide into the latter too readily at times, and I’m guilty of the former on the odd occasion too. By becoming more aware, I’m able to select what I do – easy or hard. I find it much harder to take a comfortable option when I know what the more beneficial alternative is. Without consciousness, you forgo the choice and slide into the option with the least resistance.