#Level Up

Stoicism for a Modern World: Stress Less, Win More

Understanding where we have impact in life is important. What is worth our time, and what isn't worth the energy?


Man in hoody standing in front of a misty lake in the forest

You might have heard of Stoicism, even if you haven’t spent much time in philosophy circles. Maybe you’ve seen someone called “stoic” for dealing with hardship without complaining. Common caricatures of stoics revolve around simply getting rid of emotions and letting life take its course. Truth is, stoicism is much more than just erasing emotions or accepting that life sucks. It’s about finding freedom, fulfillment, and finding control, not surrendering it.

Humans are emotional creatures, and we live our days ruled by these feelings. Our whole life is structured around what makes us feel good or how to avoid things that make us uncomfortable or feel bad. While there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment, life doesn’t always cooperate and we often find ourselves shackled by stress and despair.

What I hope to describe here is a more modern take on Stoicism, which may differ in some ways from more traditional Stoic beliefs. The core ideas are the same however in that by changing our minds and how we think about the world, we can find control, rather than letting life toss us around.

Impact of Reasoned Thinking

There was a quote I read once regarding Stoicism, “Darkness doesn’t exist, it is simply the absence of light.” In Stoic context, light is symbolic of reason, or better said, “knowledge and understanding”. Similarly, Stoics believe that negative emotions like fear, anger, and despair are rooted in darkness - they happen in the absence of reason or when we don’t have enough information or understanding about a situation. This analogy formed the basis of my stoic journey.

dark room with a lit candle in hand
Darkness is only what our eyes can't detect when light is gone.

Putting this a different way, if we are feeling one of these negative emotions, before letting it dictate our actions, we should be considering what we’re not understanding. For example, if you are having a disagreement with someone, instead of letting yourself get upset, try asking yourself:

If you can’t answer each of those questions or are unsure of your answers to the questions, then maybe you need to investigate more. Ask questions, make sure you really understand what the disagreement is about. While you may not be able to control the other party’s motivations, understanding them and understanding your own may find a way out of this situation without unnecessary conflict or wasting energy on unproductive emotions.

We suffer more often in imagination than reality.


This is what’s called “reasoned thinking”. Often you find when you slow down and step back from the situation, that things are far more manageable than if you were to act without thinking. This gives you both an opportunity to learn something new, but also insight that might aid you in influencing the other party to a compromise.

Influence vs Control

A key concept in Stoicism is identifying what we can and cannot control. You have control over your own thoughts and actions, but the world and other people exist outside your direct control. There is peace in accepting the limits of our control.

However, many opponents of traditional Stoicism criticize this idea for creating a hard line between control and lack of control. Thinking like this often leads to a kind of learned helplessness, where you feel powerless to change anything at all, even in situations where you could actually make a difference.

a woman sits on the end of a dock during daytime staring across a lake
What use is pursuing romance, if I can't control whether they'll like me back?

Rather than focusing on control, we are better served by understanding what we can influence. You may not be able to control how someone thinks or acts, but you can often influence their choices through your own behavior. We might not be able to influence the final outcome of some situations, and that may sound like a roundabout way of repeating the statement about control, but influence adds the ‘impact’ of our actions into the equation.

Every choice we make has an impact on the people and world around us. Often we find that our actions may have unexpected impacts. This is where the idea of “reasoned thinking” we discussed earlier comes into play. The better you understand a situation and the motivations of others involved, the better you can:

You might find that it’s possible to influence the outcome you desire, but it’ll come with drawbacks, or it will take more effort than you’re willing to invest. You may even find a better path to reach your goals. Only by thinking rationally about the situation can you make those informed decisions.

The Bottom Line

These ideas may contrast from some of the more traditional Stoic tenets, but the pursuit of knowledge and reason requires frequent re-evaluation of your beliefs. This pursuit of knowledge, and use of reasoned thinking is key to a Stoic outlook on life.

The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.


The better you understand your own mindset, and the more you understand about others, the richer life becomes. You learn that life isn’t a sea of random events tossing your boat every which way, but instead is what you build it to be. Through light and reason, you free yourself from the control of negative emotions, and can pursue life on your terms.

This is the journey I hope to share with you all.


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