The Daily Stoic: Virtue and Kindness

Please note: Most of the text in these notes is owned by Ryan Holiday. I am posting them here for purely educational purposes. I condensed the book myself, but I don’t own any of the content. Some of my notes are paraphrased, but most are written verbatim.

You can buy the book ‘The Daily Stoic’ by clicking here.

The book is sectioned into three parts:

  • Part 1: The Discipline of Perception
  • Part 2: The Discipline of Action
  • Part 3: The Discipline of Will

Note: The date following each block of text indicates the source from the book, which is organised into a ‘message a day’ style.

In this post, I will share my condensed version of the most important take-away messages and instructions from:

Part 3: The Discipline of Will

Virtue and Kindness

  • “Does the light of a lamp shine and keep its glow until its fuel is spent? Why shouldn’t your truth, justice, and self-control shine until you are extinguished?” – Marcus Aurelius
  • “We mortals are lighted and extinguished.” – Seneca, repeating Heraclitus
  • The light of reason suffuses the universe. Whether the wick of your lamp is being lit for the first time, after a long period of darkness, or even right before the proverbial big sleep, it makes no difference.
  • Here is where you are right now, and it’s as good a place as any to let virtue shine and continue to shine for as long as you exist. (01/10)

  • “But the wise person can lose nothing. Such a person has everything stored up for themselves, leaving nothing to Fortune, their own goods are held firm, bound in virtue, which requires nothing from chance, and therefore can’t be either increased or diminished.” – Seneca (02/10)

  • “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other—for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • We’ve been encouraged to think that we are different. Better. The chosen ones. Maybe it’s time for us to go in the opposite direction, and realize that we are more similar than we want to accept, and what links us together is stronger than what can bring us apart. (03/10)

  • “That which isn’t good for the hive, isn’t good for the bee.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Just because something is bad for you doesn’t mean it’s bad for everyone.
  • Just because something is good for you definitely doesn’t mean it’s good for everyone. Think of the hedge fund managers who massively bet against the economy. They profited by rooting for others to fail.
  • A good Stoic understands that proper impulses, and the right actions that arise from them, naturally carry the good of the whole, which is the wise person’s only good.
  • Conversely, good and wise actions by the whole are what’s good for the individual. (04/10)

  • “Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue.” – Zeno
  • Remember that what has been said can never be unsaid. Especially cruel and harmful things. (05/10)

  • “It’s in keeping with Nature to show our friends affection and to celebrate their advancement, as if it were our very own. For if we don’t do this, virtue, which is strengthened only by exercising our perceptions, will no longer endure in us.” – Seneca
  • In our hunter-gatherer minds, we suspect that life is a zero-sum game – that for someone to have more means that we mght end up with less.
  • It’s possible to “rejoice in all their successes and be moved by their every failure.” – Seneca. This is what a virtuous person does.
  • They teach themselves to actively cheer for others – even in cases where that might come at their own expense – and put aside jealousy and possessiveness. (06/10)

  • “The person who does wrong, does wrong to themselves. The unjust person is unjust to themselves—making themselves evil.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • We rarely feel good after doing something wrong. People who commit the worst crimes are sick when they see what they’ve done.
  • We feel a version of this when we lie, cheat and screw someone over.
  • Self-awareness and wrongdoing rarely go together. If you need a selfish reason to not do wrong – put yourself in touch with these feelings. They’re a powerful disincentive. (07/10)

  • “Yes, getting your wish would have been so nice. But isn’t that exactly why pleasure trips us up? Instead, see if these things might be even nicer—a great soul, freedom, honesty, kindness, saintliness. For there is nothing so pleasing as wisdom itself, when you consider how sure-footed and effortless the works of understanding and knowledge are.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Nobody can argue that pleasure doesn’t feel good. That’s what it does by definition.
  • But pleasures hardly stand up to virtue. The dopamine rush after sex is momentary. So is the pride of an accomplishment or the hearty applause of a crowd.
  • These pleasures are powerful, but they wear off and leave us wanting more.
  • What lasts longer (and remains within our circle of control)? Wisdom, good character, sobritey, and kindness. (08/10)

  • When the standards have been set, things are tested and weighed. And the work of philosophy is just this, to examine and uphold the standards, but the work of a truly good person is in using those standards when they know them.” – Epictetus
  • We go through our days responding and reacting, but it’s rare to really pause and ask: “Is this thing I’m about to do consistent with what I believe?” or “Is this the kind of thing the person I want to be should do?”.
  • The work of living is to set standards and then not compromise them.
  • Not, I want to do good – that’s an excuse. But, I will do good in this particular instance, right now. (09/10)

  • “How rotten and fraudulent when people say they intend to ‘give it to you straight.’ What are you up to, dear friend? It shouldn’t need your announcement, but be readily seen, as if written on your forehead, heard in the ring of your voice, a flash in your eyes—just as the beloved sees it all in the lover’s glance. In short, the straightforward and good person should be like a smelly goat—you know when they are in the room with you.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Expressions such as “I’ll give it to you straight” prompt the question: If you have to preface your remarks with indicators of honesty or directness, what does that suggest about everything else you say?
  • Cultivate a life where honesty was as explicit as a contract, as permenent as a tattoo. (11/10)

  • “Hecato says, ‘I can teach you a love potion made without any drugs, herbs, or special spell—if you would be loved, love.’” – Seneca
  • There is almost no situation where hatred helps. Yet almost every situation is made better by love – or empathy, understanding, appreciation – even situations in which you are in opposition to someone.
  • And who knows, you might just get some of that love back. (12/10)

  • “How much better to heal than seek revenge from injury. Vengeance wastes a lot of time and exposes you to many more injuries than the first that sparked it. Anger always outlasts hurt. Best to take the opposite course. Would anyone think it normal to return a kick to a mule or a bite to a dog?” – Marcus Aurelius
  • In response to someone treating you badly, it’s natural to think: Oh, that’s how the world works, or I’ll get them for this. These are the worst responses to bad behaviour.
  • The proper response – the best revenge – is to exact no revenge at all.
  • If someone is rude to you and you’re rude in return, all you’ve done is prove to them that they were justified in their actions.
  • Let’s try to be the example we’d like others to follow. (13/10)

  • When there’s a loud person next to you on the plane, you might feel that it takes everything you have to restrain yourself from mudering them.
  • It’s funny how that comes into our heads before politely asking them to stop, or making the minor scene of asking for a different seat.
  • We’d rather be pissed off, bitter, raging inside than risk an awkward conversation that might actually help this person and make the world a better place.
  • We don’t just want people to be better, we want it to magically occur. But when you think about it that way, it makes you wonder who the rude one actually is. (14/10)

  • “Everything turns on your assumptions about it, and that’s on you. You can pluck out the hasty judgment at will, and like steering a ship around the point, you will find calm seas, fair weather and a safe port.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • A virtuous person doesn’t jump to hasty judgments about others. They are generous with assumptions: that something was an accident, that someone didn’t know, that it won’t happen again.
  • This makes life easier to bear and makes us more tolerant. (15/10)

  • “A benefit should be kept like a buried treasure, only to be dug up in necessity. . . . Nature bids us to do well by all. . . . Wherever there is a human being, we have an opportunity for kindness.” – Seneca
  • Another translation is “it is an opportunity for benefit.” – for both of you. (17/10)

  • “There’s nothing worse than a wolf befriending sheep. Avoid false friendship at all costs. If you are good, straightforward, and well meaning it should show in your eyes and not escape notice.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Stoicism is about judging ourselves, not others. Think of when you’ve been a bad friend. This behaviour is beneath us – and worth remembering the next time we accuse someone else of being a bad friend. (18/10)

  • When a bad habit reveals itself, counteract it with a commitment to a contrary virtue.
  • Let’s say you’re procrastinating – don’t dig in and fight it. Get up and take a walk to clear your head and reset.
  • If you find yourself saying something negative, don’t kick yourself. Add something positive to qualify the remark.
  • Oppose established habits, and use the counterforce of training to get traction and make progress.
  • If you find youself cutting corners on a project, say to yourself: “Ok, now I’m going to do even better.”
  • Good habits have the power to drive out bad habits. (19/10)

  • “You have proof in the extent of your wanderings that you never found the art of living anywhere—not in logic, nor in wealth, fame, or in any indulgence. Nowhere. Where is it then? In doing what human nature demands. How is a person to do this? By having principles be the source of desire and action. What principles? Those to do with good and evil, indeed in the belief that there is no good for a human being except what creates justice, self-control, courage and freedom, and nothing evil except what destroys these things.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • What’s the meaning of life? Why was I born? – Viktor Frankl points out in Man’s Search for Meaning, that it’s not our question to ask.
  • Instead, it is we who are being asked the question. It’s our lives that are the answer.
  • No amount of travel or reading can tell you what you want to know. Instead, you must must find the answer in your actions, in living the good life – by embodying the self-evident principles of justice, self-control, courage, freedom and abstaining from evil. (20/10)

  • Instead of wasting even a second considering the opinions of future people – people who are not even born yet – focus every bit of yourself on being the best person you can be in the present moment.
  • On doing the right thing, right now.
  • The distant future is irrelevant. Be good and noble and impressive right now – while it still matters. (21/10)

  • “So someone’s good at taking down an opponent, but that doesn’t make them more community-minded, or modest, or well-prepared for any circumstance, or more tolerant of the faults of others.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • When undergoing self-improvement, it’s possible for vanity and superficiality to corrupt this process.
  • Do you want six-pack abs because you’re challenging yourself and committing to a difficult goal? Or is it because you want to impress people with your shirt off?
  • Our will shouldn’t be directed at becoming the person who’s in perfect shape or who can speak multiple languages but who doesn’t have a second for other people.
  • What’s the point of winning at sports but losing in the effort to be a good husband, father or son?
  • Let’s not confuse getting better at stuff with being a better person. (22/10)

  • “People aren’t in awe of your sharp mind? So be it. But you have many other qualities you can’t claim to have been deprived of at birth. Display then those qualities in your own power: honesty, dignity, endurance, chastity, contentment, frugality, kindness, freedom, persistence, avoiding gossip, and magnanimity.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • It’s easy to blame our circumstances. But whatever your perceived deficits are, remember that there are positive qualities that you can develop that don’t depend on genetic accidents.
  • You have the choice to be truthful. You have the choice to be dignified, to endure, to be happy, to be chase, to be thrifty, to be kind to others, to be free. You can persist under difficult odds. You can avoid gossip. You can choose to be gracious.
  • And honestly, aren’t the traits that are the result of effort and skill more impressive anyway? (23/10)

  • “Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready to flow if you will keep digging.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • Today we can hope that goodness comes our way – good news, good weather good luck.
  • Or we can find it ourselves, in ourselves.
  • Goodness isn’t going to be delivered by mail. You have to dig it up inside your own soul. You find it within your own thoughts, you make it with your own actions. (24/10)

  • You have two essential tasks in life: to be a good person and to pursue the occupation that you love.
  • How does one do that? Say no to distractions, to destructive emotions, to outside pressure.
  • Ask yourself: What it it that only I can do? What is the best use of my limited time on this planet?
  • Try to do the right thing when the situation calls for it.
  • Treat other people as you would hope to be treated.
  • And understand that every small choice and tiny matter is an opportunity to practice these larger principals. (25/10)

  • “Crimes often return to their teacher.” – Seneca
  • If you show someone how to do something unethical or illegal, might they return the favour to an unsuspecting you later on?
  • If you provide a bad example to your employees, to your associates, to your children, might they betray you or hurt you down the road?
  • What goes around comes around, is the saying. Karma is a notion we’ve imported from the East, along similar lines. (27/10)

  • “You’ll more quickly find an earthly thing kept from the earth than you will a person cut off from other human beings.” – Marcus Aurelius
  • The analogy that Marcus is using here: our mutual interdependence with our fellow human beings is stronger than the law of gravity (remember that the Stoics pre-date Newtonian physics).
  • As Aristotle said, we’re social animals. We need eachother. We must be there for eachother. We must take care of eachother (and to allow others to care for us in return).
  • To pretend otherwise is to violate our nature, to be more or less than what it means to be a human being. (28/10)

  • “Each person acquires their own character, but their official roles are designated by chance. You should invite some to your table because they are deserving, others because they may come to deserve it.” – Seneca
  • When hiring, most employers look at where someone went to school, what jobs they’ve held in the past. This is because past success can be an indicator of future successes. But is it always? There are plenty of people who were successful because of luck.
  • This is why character is a far better measure of a person. Not just for jobs, but for friendships, relationships, for everything.
  • Heraclitus put it as a maxim: “Character is fate.”
  • When you seek to advance your position in life, character is the best lever – perhaps not in the short term, but certainly over the long term. (29/10)

  • “Aren’t you ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnants of your life and to dedicate to wisdom only that time [that] can’t be directed to business?” – Seneca
  • Philosophy shouldn’t have to accept what time or energy is left over from other occupations, but instead we should graciously make time for those other pursuits only once our study is finished. (30/10)


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