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Stoicism, Seneca & 15 Timeless Lessons.

For quite some time, 50% of my readings covered the topics of human behavior, psychology, spirituality, mental health & psychological well-being. There are so many prominent authors & scientists, writing magnetic books on those topics. However, the more you dwell on those topics, the deeper it goes. It is easy to get detached from the reality you are surrounded by. Nonetheless, for the ones who do not want to detach from the real world, and play the game on our terms. There is a branch of philosophy created just for us: Stoicism. It is a philosophy designed to help us become more resilient, happy, virtuous, and wise. As a result - better people, better parents and better professionals.


Throughout history, stoicism has been a common pillar upon which great leaders leaned upon. It has been practiced by monarchs, military men, presidents, artists, and entrepreneurs. Marcus Aurelius, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, Theodore Roosevelt, and General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, were among the ones who were all influenced by Stoic philosophy.


Stoicism is a set of ethical values that help us reach a virtuous life and a state of being marked by happiness, resilience, and peace of mind from doing good. These principles also help us avoid guilt, anger, jealousy, hatred, and other negative emotions through avoiding evil, or a set of practices that teach us to reduce our stress and negative emotions by cultivating self-awareness, discipline, wisdom, and rationality. It also encourages us to align ourselves with nature.


The philosophy was founded in Athens, under the Stoa Poikile, around 300 BCE by the philosopher Zeno of Citium and later refined by the works of early stoics like Seneca, former slave Epictetus, and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.


The guiding principles, or ethical values, of Stoicism, can be distilled into four cardinal virtues:


Wisdom – our ability to see things as they are, free from bias, and prejudice. Wisdom is our ability to see right from wrong, use reason, rational judgment, and avoid warping the truth of what we see.


Courage – our ability to act in alignment with what we think is right, despite pressure not to.


Justice – our capacity to behave in the interests of the common and wider good. The opposite of this would be to behave in ways that are detrimental to our neighbors and fellow men.


Temperance – our ability to exercise self-restraint, self-control, moderation, and discipline.


“A Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desires into undertaking.” – Nassim Taleb


There you go, that was your introduction to Stoicism. Now we can move on to the hero of this article.


My inspiration for this article is a 5 minute, AI-generated YouTube video. It stuck with me & I wanted to give it a twist. However, before I do that, I would like to tell you about our hero - Lucius Annaeus Seneca also known as Seneca the Younger, or just Seneca.


Seneca was a Roman philosopher, statesman, orator, and tragedian. He was Rome’s leading intellectual figure in the mid-1st century CE and was virtually ruler with his friends of the Roman world between 54 and 62, during the first phase of the emperor Nero’s reign. Seneca’s tragedies influenced William Shakespeare and John Webster.


Lucius Annaeus Seneca was born in Cordoba during the reign of Augustus. Because of his birth to a provincial nobleman of low rank, Seneca was quite removed from the workings of the powerful Roman elite, yet the course of his life would come to be shaped by his relationships—sometimes inimical, sometimes friendly—with the early Julio-Claudian Emperors. He was exiled by Claudius and then recalled. He was a friend and tutor to Nero Claudius Ceasar.


Born over 2,000 years ago in Spain as the son of Seneca the Elder, Seneca had a mixed reputation. On one hand, we have his writings, which were both practical and timeless. Using a search for wisdom to navigate the inevitable ups and downs of life, he could be considered a practical philosopher. His thoughts influenced historical figures such as Pascal, Francis Bacon, and Montaigne, and continue to resonate with people today. Nassim Taleb went so far as to write an entire chapter on Seneca in his book AntiFragile.


On the other hand, there is an incongruity between his principles and his life. Take, as one of many examples, his association with Nero. In 41 A.D. when Claudius became the emperor, he exiled Seneca to the island of Corsica. This is where he stayed for over eight years, until Agrippina, the mother of the future emperor Nero, secured his release to become Nero’s tutor. Nero would go on to become one of the most tyrannical emperors in the Roman Empire, a fact that caused many people to charge Seneca with hypocrisy — how can one with so much wisdom tutor Nero!?


Serving any bad guy — especially Nero — is prosperous until it’s not. While Seneca got wealthy, he also died. Nero, thinking Seneca was plotting to overthrow him, ordered him killed. Seneca ended up committing suicide.


Like most of us, Seneca lived a life full of adversity & challenges. However, that did not stop him from influencing thousands of thinkers, authors, politicians, stoics & people just like you and I.


A friend of mine, or as I call him - a frientor (friend/mentor) named Christos, always says that philosophical works which date back almost 2000 years, mostly - do not require an update or an upgrade. They are timeless. Therefore below you will find 15 of Seneca’s timeless stoic teachings. The more I read, the more I understand that, when it comes to living a life of purpose and meaning, certain principles have withstood the test of time.


Today I want to share 15 Timeless lessons inspired by the wisdom of Seneca the stoic philosopher. These lessons can help you become better at everything you do, no matter what situations life throws at you. These principles are not relics of the past, they're beacons guiding us toward personal growth and resilience in the modern world.


Whether you're well-versed in seeking wisdom or just beginning your journey these lessons will inspire and guide you. So let's embark on this journey together exploring the profound teachings of Seneca. Through the lens of contemporary life, it's not about perfection but continuous progress and these lessons are the keys to a purposeful and resilient life.


Let’s dive into this Timeless wisdom. Remember you have the power to apply these lessons in your daily life, let's illuminate the path to becoming the best version of ourselves.


1. Seek challenges


Seneca was a man who understood the value of challenges. He knew that growth doesn't happen in comfort zones. Life often presents us with opportunities to step outside our comfort zones and these moments are where we discover our true potential. Think about a challenge you've been avoiding. It might be a new project at work, that seems daunting, a physical fitness goal that feels out of reach or perhaps a personal fear you've been reluctant to confront.


Embrace it and seek it out because that is where your true potential lies. Remember, in the crucible of challenge greatness is forged.


2. Choose your influences wisely


Seneca believed in surrounding himself with the right influences. You can't choose your parents but you can certainly choose your friends and role models. Think about the people you spend the most time with. Are they inspiring motivating and uplifting you? Or do they drag you down and drain your energy? Make the conscious choice to be influenced by those who make you better.


Consider this, the company you keep is like the air you breathe. It has a profound impact on your well-being. Surround yourself with individuals who challenge you, support your growth, and lead by example. They will help you become the person you aspire to be. “You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with”


3. Focus on your response


Life is full of unexpected twists and turns Seneca’s lesson here is simple but profound. It is not about what happens to you. It is about how you respond. Think about a recent setback or adversity you've faced, did you let it define you or did you rise above it? Your response is your power. Consider it as the canvas on which you paint the portrait of your life. In every situation, you can choose your response. To shape the narrative when life throws its curve balls, take a step back, breathe, and think about how you can respond with wisdom and strength. That is where true resilience is born.


4. Say yes to what matters


In a world filled with distractions, it's essential to say yes to what truly matters. Every time you say yes to something, you're saying no to something else. Consider your daily choices, are they aligned with your long-term goals and values? Prioritize the essential and eliminate the trivial in the grand scheme of life. What truly matters is not the sheer quantity of tasks you complete, but the quality of the impact you create. Remember each yes is a commitment of your time and energy, so make sure you're dedicating yourself to endeavors that align with your purpose and values.


Book advice - “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown

5. Be a master of yourself


Self-discipline is the cornerstone of personal growth. Seneca's philosophy was all about mastering oneself. It is about taking control of your actions, emotions, and decisions. Being a master of yourself doesn't mean trying to control or manipulate others, it means being in charge of your own life when faced with temptations or distractions. It is the power of self-discipline that keeps you on the path to your goals. It is the inner strength to say no to instant gratification in favor of long-term success. Remember the power to master yourself is a skill that can be cultivated and refined over time. Book advice - “Mastery of self” - Don Miguel Ruiz.


6. Protect your time


Time is our most precious resource and once it is gone you can't create more of it. Are you guarding your time like you guard your most valuable possessions? Seneca's wisdom is a reminder that we often squander our time on things that don't truly matter. Manage your time wisely and you'll find more opportunities for growth and fulfillment. Consider this, how are you spending your time each day? Are you investing it in activities that align with your values and aspirations? Be mindful of the precious moments that make up your life. Learn to prioritize and allocate your time in a way that reflects what truly matters to you.


7. Do the hard things


Seneca knew that greatness requires effort and resilience. He advocated for treating the body rigorously, making it obedient to the mind. This concept applies not just to physical challenges but also to mental and emotional ones. When you face difficulties, embrace them! It is through challenges that you discover your true strength. Whether it is the physical rigor of a demanding workout, the mental toughness needed to confront a difficult problem, or the emotional fortitude to navigate a challenging relationship. It is in these crucibles that you grow and evolve. The next time you encounter a hard thing, lean into it and remind yourself that adversity is the forge where your character is tempered.


When I think of mental toughness, the first person that comes to mind is David Goggins. You can find out more about him here.


8. Make others better


Seneca believed that making others better was a path to happiness. It is not about judgment or control, it is about being an inspiration and a positive influence. Consider the impact you have on those around you, are you helping them become the best versions of themselves? By empowering and uplifting others, you not only contribute to their growth but also elevate your character. When you make the people around you better, you create a ripple effect of positivity that extends far beyond your immediate circle. It is a way of leaving a lasting legacy of goodness and inspiration in the world.


This Utilitarian approach does make a huge impact on oneself & the ones you are surrounded by. Utilitarianism is a theory of morality that advocates actions that foster happiness or pleasure and opposes actions that cause unhappiness or harm. When directed toward making social, economic, or political decisions, a utilitarian philosophy would aim for the betterment of society as a whole.


9. Practice gratitude


Gratitude is a key component of a well-lived life. While Seneca didn't explicitly mention it, it's an essential aspect of stoic philosophy. Take time every day to appreciate the things you have. From the simplest pleasures to the most significant achievements. Gratitude fosters contentment and resilience. When you acknowledge the blessings in your life, it is like filling your heart with light. Gratitude reminds you of the abundance that surrounds you. Even in challenging times, it's a powerful tool that fuels your inner strength and helps you navigate adversity with a positive outlook. Thanks to my partner Jafar Najafov, I started practicing it daily. 5 minutes before falling asleep & as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. Right around times when your brain is in “Theta” mode. Theta waves are of the five types of electrical pulses your brain produces. It usually happens during pre-sleep, meditation, dreaming, or in a state of deep relaxation.


10. Embrace continuous learning


Seneca's daily improvement philosophy implies a commitment to learning. Are you seeking knowledge and skills that can help you grow and adapt? Remember, learning is a lifelong journey and every bit of knowledge gained makes you more adaptable and resilient. In a rapidly changing world consider, that by constantly learning you will equip yourself with the tools and knowledge needed to thrive in an ever-changing landscape. As Naval Ravikant likes to say - “Learning to learn is an ultimate meta-skill”.


I urge you to try out a book about his modern-day philosophies called “Almanack of Naval Ravikant”.


11. Embrace vulnerability


Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness, but Seneca would remind us that embracing our vulnerability is a display of courage. It is the willingness to admit our imperfections and confront our fears. Think about a situation where you hesitated to be vulnerable because you were afraid of judgment or rejection. Seneca's lesson is this, vulnerability is the path to genuine human connection and personal growth. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable you invite authenticity into your life, which in turn deepens your relationships and fosters personal resilience.


12. Cultivate resilience through adversity


Seneca's life was marked by adversity and he became a shining example of resilience. He believed that adversity is not an obstacle but a teacher. Consider the setbacks or challenges you faced, instead of viewing them as setbacks, see them as opportunities for growth. Seneca's wisdom teaches us that, every adversity no matter how daunting, is an opportunity to become stronger and wiser. It is in the crucible of hardship, that we refine our character and develop the resilience needed to face life's uncertainties.


13. Practice the art of reflection


Seneca was a proponent of self-reflection. He believed that taking time each day to reflect on your thoughts, actions, and decisions is a crucial step in self-improvement. How often do you pause to reflect on your day, your choices, and your goals? Seneca's lesson is clear - reflection is the compass that guides your journey of self-discovery. By regularly examining your life you gain insight into your strengths, weaknesses, and areas where growth is needed. It is through reflection that you can make deliberate changes and progress toward becoming your best self.


14. Cultivate a robust mindset


Seneca emphasized the importance of mindset. In shaping our lives, your thoughts have the power to influence your actions and ultimately, your destiny. Consider the narratives that play in your mind, are they positive and empowering or are they filled with self-doubt and negativity? Seneca’s wisdom encourages us to cultivate a resilient mindset. It is about training your mind to focus on solutions, rather than problems. Opportunities, instead of obstacles. When you adopt a resilient mindset, you become better equipped to face adversity with grace and determination.


15. Live in alignment with your values


Seneca was a strong advocate for living in alignment with one's values. Your values are the guiding principles that define who you are and what you stand for. Think about the values that matter most to you. Are your daily actions and decisions aligned with those values? Seneca's lesson is this, when you live in harmony with your values, you live with authenticity and purpose. You become a person of integrity and your life gains a sense of meaning and fulfillment. It is through this alignment, that you build a resilient foundation for navigating life's challenges.


There you have it, 15 timeless lessons inspired by the great Seneca presented with a contemporary perspective. These principles have the power to transform your life to make you better at everything you do. It is not about being perfect it is it's about progress and continuous growth.


Pura Vida!


Rashad


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