8 Life Tips From Classical Philosophers


1) Per Socrates, know that you can change yourself for the better.

People with a “fixed” mindset about their behaviors, habits, or abilities never do as well as those who learn the power of changing for self-improvement. Good habits can make or break you. You can absolutely change your behavior. You can be different.

2) You have enough time for what’s important.

Don’t wish for more time—just spend less time on Twitter or watching TV. Your life is long enough to do what you really must. It just feels like there isn’t enough time when you waste it. (This is from Seneca’s “On the Shortness of Life.”)

3) Think about things at their most stripped-down level.

In other words, think about the root level where things appear as they really are. A fancy restaurant meal is still food on a plate. A new car is still just rubber tires and some metal. That’s not to say things should not be enjoyed, but remember that what you see on the surface is not the whole show. (This comes from Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.)

4) Try to focus on what you can control.

As the former slave-turned-philosopher Epictetus taught, there are things you have control over and there are things you have absolutely no control over. What’s the difference between being helpful to a friend and worrying about potentially really bad weather tomorrow? One is under your influence, the other is most definitely not. It doesn’t help at all to worry about events beyond your control.

5) Accept that you can’t change the past.

Building on Epictetus’ lesson, realize that nothing you do now can alter the past. Do your best to let history rest in peace. All you control is the present. Maybe you made a mistake yesterday, but that doesn’t mean you have to make one today. Focus on now.

6) Control your body. You’re going nowhere without it.

As Plato believed, you must exert control over your body. It does not eat unhealthy food everyday or skip getting enough sleep without your permission. Your evolutionarily-trained body thinks eating sugary food all day is good for itself; it’s up to your mind and willpower to know this will only hurt you. It’s not just about biology; it’s also about willpower and self control.

7) Try to avoid overly optimistic expectations.

Although this is seemingly obvious, Seneca advises that you set yourself up to be disappointed and unsatisfied when your wants are beyond what can be reasonably expected. Have hope, but try not to have too-rosy projections of how things will turn out.

8) Don’t worry about public approval.

Diogenes the Cynic taught that not worrying about approval is the best way to avoid feeling humiliated or rejected. He even deliberately made a spectacle of himself on the street on occasion just as a reminder that onlookers’ approval didn’t matter. Try not worrying much about what people think.