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What pops into your mind when you think of stoicism?

Is it the image of Marcus Aurelius, calm and collected, writing in his journal?

Maybe it is Seneca who comes to mind, meditating on life and death, writing age-old advice we still rely upon to this day.

Or maybe, you don’t even know what stoicism is and who these people are.

Maybe you know who they are and follow the advice but never bothered to find what stoicism actually means.

With that in mind, and before moving on to sharing one of the best ways to practice this timeless advice, I’ll give you the definition.

Stoicism: an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

In other words, it is the philosophy that believes in accepting the current reality, while always striving to make it the best it could be, without attachment to success, failure, and the emotions that come with both.

In essence, to be stoic is to practice those virtues.

But How Do You Practice Those?

This is where things get complicated.

Because even though you might resonate with the advice, you probably find it hard to apply. Logically it makes sense, but in practice, it’s so often that we find ourselves resorting to our old ways, especially when things get overwhelming.

In a way, when we most need to apply stoicism is when it is the most difficult.

But as any serious athlete knows, it is not what you do on the day of the game that matters the most. It is what you do before.

Consistent practice is what leads these professionals to the results they want when it matters most, and in my experience, the same thing applies to this philosophy.

With that in mind, we reach the purpose of today’s article: How to practice stoicism.

The 1 Practice To Rule Them All

While there are a million and one possible ways of developing the ability to be stoic in the face of trouble, there is one I’ve found to work wonders.

Surprisingly enough, it isn’t meditation, journaling, cold showers, weightlifting, or similar things you may have had recommended to you.

Even though those are all fantastic practices that I do on a regular basis, this one encompasses the benefits of all of those into it.

What is that you ask?

That is, nothing more than CHESS.

Chess?

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Yes, chess.

I’m guessing your forehead slightly frowned in confusion when you read that so allow me to elaborate.

While on the surface chess may seem like an intellectual game with no other purpose than to compete and entertain, things take a whole different perspective when you look behind the surface level.

From my experience with it, chess teaches 3 core concepts, fundamental for stoicism.

First of all…

#1 — Patience In The Face Of Important Decisions

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“It shows a brave and resolute spirit not to be agitated in exciting circumstances.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero

Because of the nature of the game, where each player takes turns moving their pieces, in order to win, you must plan ahead.

Sure, you can go by intuition, move to move, but any experienced player will beat you ten times out of ten if this is your approach.

To consistently win at chess, you are required to give up short-term rewards for the long term one: victory.

You must take your time, set up your pieces to attack, while also making sure they are not vulnerable to be attacked by your opponent.

Slowly calculating your way to check-mate.

Essentially, chess teaches you that pure aggression and “power of will” are not the solutions to victory, but instead, a slow, calculated approach.

An approach that is only possible by keeping your emotions in check.

A concept that is missing in so many of us today.

We may recognize the importance of such an approach, but are also quick to realize that we can’t seem to commit to it for very long.

As soon as some extremely appealing program comes along, promising us quick results in whatever area it is we are trying to succeed, we are quick to jump on board, hoping to reach major success in a short time frame.

This leads us straight to my next point, which is:

#2— Delaying Gratification

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The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future.

When playing chess, you are never looking to win in a single move.

First of all, because it is impossible, and second of all, even if you were to try to have the fastest game possible (2 moves) you’d be playing yourself.

Any player that has faced that strategy more than twice will know exactly what to do and easily beat you at that game.

That is why, for the most part, chess is a game of slow, consistent improvement of your pieces over your opponent, eventually leading to victory the one who excels at it.

The same thing applies to life.

Sure, you can try and go for fast, easy results, but more likely than not, you will be either disappointed by the lack of progress or you’ll get lucky once but fail to maintain the same rate moving forward.

If you take a look at the successful among us, it is never those who go for the “sprint” approach that win. Instead, it is those who dedicate themselves to the road of slow improvements, every day, that eventually reach the top of the mountain.

A favorite example of mine is Kobe Bryant. A man that will be forever cemented as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, who coincidentally or not, followed this to a T.

While so many players find themselves focusing on irrelevant practices to reach the top, Kobe recognized that it isn’t a flashy new move that would give him the championship rings he so much desired.

Instead, it was mastering the core of the game, the fundamentals.

Thus, he dedicated himself to master them. Slowly, progressively, achieving mastery of what others considered to be too basic to practice anymore.

An approach that combined with incredible natural talent made Kobe one of the greatest players of all time (May he rest in peace).

#3— Assuming Responsibility.

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“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” — Marcus Aurelius

The final thing that I want to emphasize is one of the core concepts engrained in stoicism.

One of the highest virtues that one can hold.

That is, to assume responsibility for one’s actions and consequential results.

Not only to accept what is, whether victory or defeat but to appreciate both of them. For victory is only possible by improving upon defeats, and every loss teaches us something that we didn’t know we had to improve on.

With chess, you get that feedback in real-time.

Not only will you pretty much always know why you won, but when you lose you can go back and review where you are lacking.

Probably the only game in the world where luck plays absolutely no role in dictating the final outcome. A game where each player is 100% responsible for the results he gets.

A game that forces each participant to assume full responsibility for not only their results but more importantly, for the actions that led to those results.

In a way, chess forces you to be the person you wish you could be at all times: Humble in victory, gracious in defeat, always taking responsibility for your actions.

Chess teaches us to be the best version of ourselves.

How to move forward from here?

If this article awoke a motivation to try your hand at chess, I’m very excited to let you know that it is quite easy to get started.

You can play against other opponents at chees.com or at lichess.org

Both of those websites are free and you can play as many games per day as you’d like.

On top of that, chess has been drastically increasing in popularity recently and you can find tons of educational content on youtube.

So, when it comes down to it, if you’re looking for a new way to not only apply these stoic concepts to your life but also to develop a new highly competitive skill, I’ll be waiting for you at the board.

Best of luck.

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Stoicism & Philosophy | Building @pathsofmeaning

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