Stoicism has been used most effectively by both slaves and Emperors. By athletes and business executives. By fighter pilots taken captive. By people from every walk of life you could think of for thousands of years.
In other words, as Ryan Holiday would say, it works.
Yes, it’s a philosophy. But it’s more like an operating system for human beings.
It teaches us how to deal with adversity, how to handle prosperity, and how to stay even-keeled through the inevitable ups and downs of everyday life. So it becomes even more important as a way of life when you’re changing your way of life—like when you’re changing your diet, for example.
With that said, here are 10 stoic quotes that will help you on your journey to lose weight sustainably and evolve your lifestyle into one you’re proud of:
1. “You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Imagine the following situation: it’s a co-workers birthday and he’s brought in donuts to celebrate. Maybe you’re annoyed. “I’m trying to be good, damn it!”
Let me ask you: is that annoyance helping? You have no control over whether or not the donuts exist, whether they’ll be at the office. The donuts are an outside event. They exist beyond you.
However, you do have complete control over whether or not you eat one. Sounds simple, because it is. It’s a choice.
2. “Because a thing seems difficult for you, do not think it impossible for anyone to accomplish.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Do you know anybody who has an amazing, healthy relationship with food? Someone who eats whatever they want, but that all they seem to want to eat is food that’s good for them?
Someone who can pass up the bread without a second glance, or who actually leaves food on the plate because they’re full (WTF IS THAT ABOUT?!)?
Maybe it’s always been easy for that person. Or maybe that person struggled for years like you wouldn’t believe but came out the other side stronger than ever. You have no insight into her struggle, her story, her inner world.
Either way, it doesn’t really matter if it’s easy or difficult for her to consistently stay in shape. What’s important is that this person has proved that it’s possible to have a healthy relationship with food, to be in the best shape of her life, and to maintain it.
And she is composed of the same stuff as you. It’s likely they can teach you something, if you just ask, as opposed to standing there in the judgment of your own projection.
3. “Here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not ‘This is misfortune’, but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Let’s be real: learning how to conquer your cravings and master your diet is going to be hard. Really hard. That’s why I write about it so frequently. There are going to be times when you’re tested, and I mean really tested. You are going to want to give in, I promise you that.
You are going to want to utter those infamous words—“F**k it”—and just go to town.
Remember, you always have a choice. Your temptation is a gift. An opportunity to say “No,” to choose otherwise than what every cell in your body feels like it’s screaming for.
The next time temptation strikes, imagine how powerful you’ll feel when you choose yourself and don’t give in.
And how much more prepared you’ll be for the next time.
4. “Do what you will. Even if you tear yourself apart, most people will continue doing the same things.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
How many times have you been on a diet? 3, 4, 10? Maybe you’re always on some kind of diet.
You already know that “going on a diet” doesn’t work. You knew that after the first time you tried and (inevitably) failed. But how many more times did you try?
When you’re on the diet, you stress to be perfect. When you’re not on the diet, you’re sabotaging yourself left and right. Binging because, after all, you’re “not on a diet anymore!” – you tell yourself. There’s no mindfulness about eating; you just eat whatever the hell you feel like without any regard for the consequences to your body or your mind.
Are you tearing yourself apart, and continuing to do so?
What would happen if you weren’t afraid to take a risk? To try something else.
“Dieting” is fundamentally at odds with learning and is the explicit reason why you haven’t been successful achieving or maintaining health and happiness.
Deliberate practice is the only path toward building a lifestyle that’s yours to keep.
5. “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” – Seneca, Dialogues and Essays
When you’re “on a diet” and you inevitably make a mistake (or “f**k up,” as you likely call it) – how do you treat yourself? With compassion and understanding? I doubt it.
When you’re changing your lifestyle, you’re not going to be perfect. It just isn’t going to happen. I’ve coached hundreds of clients and none have ever been perfect. In fact, I teach them to protect their imperfection. Don’t be perfect, I say. Be yourself. You can succeed by just being you.
What I’m asking you right now is: can you let go of being perfect and still treat yourself with kindness? Can you be “good enough” and still love yourself?
For the perfectionists out there, this is an extremely difficult principle to internalize. But you must if you want to be successful in the long run. “Good enough” is an attitude to quiet the fixed mindset inside each of us. This shift in perspective single-handedly changed my life, and is a key indicator of all of my clients who are “successful” in conventional terms.
Adopting a spirit of “good enough” allows you to improve without feeling like you have to constantly protect your ego. At the beginning phases of growth, this attitude is essential as you must accept certain shortcomings and push on regardless, rather than try to make up for them. Doing something 80% or 90% well is a very difficult concept for fixed mindset individuals to adopt (especially high achievers), and yet is a precursor to making the rapid change you seek.
6. “Focus on the moment, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.” – Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is The Way
I talk a lot about anchors. “Anchors” are my word for habits. They are the daily healthy practices we choose to commit to that ground us in the present and sustain us over time. Anchors are the pillars of a healthy life. Hitting them is non-negotiable.
Often our emotions can sabotage our greater goals because change is hard and our emotions don’t respond well to “hard.” That’s fine. Anchoring the day with healthy habits that do and don’t have anything to do with eating healthily will domino and, over time, compound into wide-sweeping change.
Once you notice yourself doing things that are healthy for you, that support your health and greater goals, that you once-before only imagined yourself wishing you could accomplish—you’ll begin to see yourself from a new perspective, and you’ll feel inspired by seeing yourself change. You’ll notice the change by the way you orient yourself in the world; that is, by the things you do, the actions you take, what you’re eating, how you’re getting it, the language you’re using, the subjects of your fascination, what you speak about at parties.
You’ll notice that the way you feel is directly connected to how you’re supporting yourself, how you’re treating yourself. Rather than trying to outthink or outperform our bodies, we find the middle ground between body and mind. The two work together. The sweet spot is the middle. It’s the place of harmony, where there is no energy pushing in either direction.
7. “It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but to plant your feet and keep inching closer until you take the impenetrable fortress you’ve decided to lay siege to in your own life—that’s persistence.” – Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is The Way
Eating healthily and training mindfully to follow through with your intentions can be tedious and demanding. Much easier to press “snooze” on your goals and wait until next year when “things are less crazy.”
When you want to do something — something big and important and meaningful like lose a bunch of weight and build a healthy lifestyle — you will be subjected to treatment ranging from indifference to outright sabotage. Count on it. Most of this treatment will come from the inside, from the ego.
The ego holds an inflated view of your abilities and doesn’t like to make new commitments if it’s not entirely sure it can succeed. The ego will work extra hours to protect ourselves. That’s what fear is.
Your own path, this mission toward mastery and health you aspire to, will in some ways be defined by the amount of nonsense you are willing to deal with. In this phase, you must practice seeing yourself with a little distance, cultivating the ability to get out of your own head. Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote.
8. “You know what’s better than building things up in your imagination? Building things up in real life.” – Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle Is The Way
I know you’re daydreaming of having a fantastic body, a thinner face, smaller hips, and whatever else you want. I know you can picture yourself having conquered your cravings and mastered your diet and feeling better and being more than ever before.
And that can be fun. That’s one of the first steps.
But actually doing it and having it and being it…well, how would that feel?
When you’re a novice at something—let’s take, for example, healthy living—it’s outrageously tempting to want to be perfect. You want to get it right all at once rather than find your stride, invest in mistakes, and master the major principles.
Trying to do everything “100%” is a deadly gamble and often a major indicator of early-stage fatigue, burnout and/or quitting.
Think of it this way: if soon after picking up a guitar for the first time you’re already frustrated for not being able to solo like Hendrix, then you’ll automatically toss the guitar aside, reject deep practice, and remove yourself from the process before you’ve actually learned something new. We must build a foundation and then grow from there.
9. “Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.” ― Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy
Please never compare yourself to anyone else. “Sheryl doesn’t have to try, she’s just skinny.” For all we know, Sheryl is a bulimic and suffers every night from the intensity of her own self-loathing. You experience her as skinny and project her into occupying some blissful state of being.
The point is that it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing: their experience of themselves has absolutely nothing to do with your experience of yourself. The moment you learn this, the moment you’ll find center.
Please never fix your identity to the ideal of perfection: “I have to be 100% perfect on this diet. Not only do my food choices HAVE to be spotless, but I HAVE to work out for an hour every morning. This is GO TIME.” How many of us do this? We fantasize about how perfect we’ll be, how this time is different. When that initial wave of motivation dies out a few weeks later, what happens then?
10. “Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into practice – now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! […] Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do – now.” – Epictetus, The Art of Living
We want to build a proactive way of life that’s fundamentally moved from the inside out, as opposed to a reactive way of life where we’re constantly reacting to inputs and stimuli that we might not necessarily want, and where we’re constantly beleaguered or oppressed by a sense of how we’re going to be perceived by others (“social pressures”).
How you do anything is how you do everything. The little things matter. The little things are a reflection of how you approach life’s more important tasks.
Most people think that they can wait around for the big moments in life “to turn it on,” but if you don’t cultivate turning it on to meet the little moments—and there’s thousands of times more little moments than big—then there’s no chance to master the big ones.
This is your life, the choice is yours.