The Practicing Stoic - Ward Farnsworth

The Practicing Stoic - Ward Farnsworth

Video Book Summary

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Book Summary Notes

The Practicing Stoic

“The body of ideas known as Stoicism contains some of the finest and most durable wisdom of any age. The Stoics were deep students of fear, status, emotion, and much else that bedeviled the human race thousands of years ago and bedevils it still. They were philosophers of a down-to-earth sort, seeking by force of their insights to free ordinary people from their sufferings and illusions."

"The Stoics had their limitations, of course; they held some beliefs that very few people do anymore. But in other ways they were far ahead of their times. They said a number of the best things that anyone ever has."

"The teachings of the Stoics are as interesting and valuable now as when first written—maybe more so, since the passage of two millennia has confirmed so much of what they said. The idiocies, miseries, and other discouragements of our era tend to seem novel or modern; hearing them described in a classical dialogue reminds us that they are nothing new. That itself was a claim of the Stoics: that the stories and problems of humanity don’t change, but just put on new masks." 

"The same can be said for the remedies. The most productive advice anyone offers nowadays, casually or in a bestseller, often amounts to a restatement of something the Stoics said with more economy, intelligence, and wit long ago. The reader does better by going straight to the sages.”

How many ideas last for a few millennia?  Not very many of them!

Especially not very many that seem to get more and more important as our society gets more and more 'technologically advanced' 

Stoic Philosophy has become somewhat of a passion of mine specifically for this reason..  The philosophy has been true since I was born and will likely remain true for millennia to come. 

One of the cool things about learning from people who have studied Stoicism deeply (as Ward has) is that they are able to show you how it's applicable to modern life!

Ward is the Dean of the University of Texas Law school..  

His thoughts, observations and meditations on Stoicism in this book are very logical and I feel extremely applicable!

On this channel we've learned from some of the best modern day Stoic teachers.. 

  • Donald Robertson
  • Massimo Piglucci
  • Ryan Holiday 
  • William B. Irvine

I believe that Ward is a welcome addition to that list and I thoroughly enjoyed this book..  Perfect for aspiring Stoic Practitioners and Experienced Stoics Alike!

 First Principle

“The first principle of practical Stoicism is this: we don’t react to events; we react to our judgments about them, and the judgments are up to us." 

"We will see the Stoics develop that idea in the pages to come, but this expression of it is typical:"

"If any external thing causes you distress, it is not the thing itself that troubles you, but your own judgment about it. And this you have the power to eliminate right now. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations"

"The Stoic claim, in other words, is that our pleasures, griefs, desires and fears all involve three stages rather than two: not just an event and a reaction, but an event, then a judgment or opinion about it, and then a reaction (to the judgment or opinion)." 

"Our task is to notice the middle step, to understand its frequent irrationality, and to control it through the patient use of reason. This chapter starts with noticing. Later chapters will talk about the irrationality and offer advice about control." 

"We begin here because the point is foundational. Most of the rest of what the Stoics say depends on it. Soon we will hear from them about ‘externals,’ desires, virtues, and much else. But it all begins with the idea that we construct our experience of the world through our beliefs, opinions, and thinking about it—in a word, through our judgments—and they are up to us.”

Think about the last time you felt pleasure, desire, grief or fear..  

Bring that 'episode' up in your mind and ask yourself these questions.

  • What were you reacting too?
  • What were your judgements about the scenario?
  • How were your judgements causing that reaction to be skewed?

This is incredibly common..  So common that it's likely happening to you every single day!

  • The way you react to things is based so much on your perception of that thing..  
  • Fail in a business venture?  Some might see that as a reason to stop..  Others might see that as a reason to adapt and change!  
  • What changed?  The persons judgement of the scenario. 

Let's look at our ability to change these judgements in real time..  Through a case study of a coaching client!

  • Recently on a coaching call one of my clients presented with a large list of problems.. 
  • He was 'stuck' in his day job and didn't have enough energy to do anything after work..  
  • He didn't have any skills that he could use to either get another job or start a business..  
  • Everything he had tried in the past didn't work out or felt like it was too much work and not worth the reward..  
  • As an experienced Entrepreneur I know these feelings..  I have felt those feelings..  I have overcome those feelings!

So here is what we did..  We wrote down a list of 10 ideas!

How could he overcome his time constraints?  10 ideas..  

What skills does he have or could he easily learn? 10 ideas..  

Why did he fail in the past and how could this time be different?  10 ideas..  

Whats the secret here?  One of these ideas was THE IDEA?  No..  But what we did was change his perspective-judgements about his current situation!  

This allowed him to view the problem from a solution focused perspective rather than a defeated perspective!

Don't 'be' Happy

“Stoics regard virtue as sufficient to produce happiness on all occasions, and also as necessary for it. The happiness centrally valued by the Stoic is eudaimonia, or well-being—the good life rather than the good mood." 

"But the Stoic believes that virtue gives rise to joy and to peace of mind as well. Virtue produces these good consequences as side effects." 

"The primary mission of the Stoics, in other words, is to be helpful to others and serve the greater good, and they don’t do this to make themselves happy. They do it because it is the right and natural way to live. But doing it in that spirit, as it turns out, makes them happy.”

The secret to happiness?  Don't try to be happy. 

This is something that stuck out to me..  Something I am resolving to practice more often!  

  • Instead of focusing on things like 'money in the bank' , 'leisure time' and other 'happiness producing things' I am focusing deeply on the people I help!
  • That is what this YouTube channel is all about..  Crafting myself into the type of person that can help YOU!  A person who can contribute to YOU at the highest level possible.  

What does this look like for you?  

  • Where are you focusing? 
  • On yourself and your 'wants'?
  • Or on other people and how you can help?

I suggest doing a quick inventory..  

First imagine yourself as someone who can help..   

What skills do you have? 

What energy can you commit?

Where should you focus?

Second image who you might be able to help.. 

Who are they specifically?

What do they need help with?

Where can you find them?

Third is the action phase!

Take notice of how you feel when pursuing the betterment of others rather than the betterment of yourself. 

Quick note!  This is why entrepreneurs who are CUSTOMER focused are successful..  After helping a certain amount of people eventually the money comes to you. 


“The first rule of this branch of Stoic teaching is contempt for conformity, for the opinion of the majority, for the habit of looking to others when thinking about what to prefer and how to act." 

"The problem runs deep. A large share of what most people say, think, and do is a product of convention. Its force is hard to resist because getting in line with what others expect causes them to think well of us."

"Deviating from it tends to be punished swiftly by others who are more comfortable saying, doing, and enforcing what is expected. Much of Stoicism is the effort to see the truth and act on it, and to learn a noble contempt for the consequences that follow.”

Doing something different is extremely hard..  For many reasons!  Not the least of which is the madness of the crowd.  

This is something I didn't really feel until I was in my late 20's..  

  • Before that I had always run businesses, driven crappy cars and lived frugally to foster my own freedom!
  • But something happened in my late 20's where I wanted to fit in..  I wanted a nice house, a fancy car and other modern things people have!  
  • Who could blame me I guess.. 

Where are you conforming?  I wonder..  Is it taking away your freedom to pursue your true calling!

  • This is a personal question.  
  • There is nothing wrong with nice houses, cars or anything else for that matter!  
  • But what is wrong is doing it because everyone else is doing it..  Not because you truly want those things.  

That is exactly what happened to me! 

  • I started conforming not because I valued these things but because it was easier!
  • Happy to say that I realized it mid-stream and was able to back away and double down on my true calling!  Helping people.  


“What is the difference between a preferred indifferent and the desires that Stoics regard as hazardous? Detachment."

"An attachment to an external causes one’s happiness, and equilibrium, to depend on it. The Stoic tries to avoid that position under all circumstances. But money, if held without attachment, is unobjectionable—for the money isn’t the problem. The point is the health of the mind."

"The word ‘detachment’ risks creating the wrong impression, since it can connote a lack of real interest in whatever is the subject of it. That isn’t the idea."

"Detachment refers more to the way in which something is held and to whether the mind has been given over to it in an excessive way. The detachment of the Stoic thus can be viewed as a kind of moderation—that is, moderation in one’s relationship to externals. A good way to test such a relationship, and to know whether you have an attachment to a thing or just a preference about it, is to consider how well you would handle its loss.”

What does your happiness depend on?

Let's take a look..  Do you need these things to be happy?

  • Success, career or status..  
  • Material goods like clothes and cars.. 
  • Relationships or partners..

How then would the stoic instruct us to look at these things?

  • They would instruct us to practice detachment to these things..  
  • Instead of focusing on the outcomes they would show us that focusing on living with virtue leads to longer - sustainable happiness.. 

Practicing detachment..

  • What would it look like if you lost all of the things right now that make you happy?  
  • Once you feel that..  How can you go on allowing objects, situations or people to control your happiness?


“Stoics avoid adversity in the ways that anyone of sense would. But sometimes it comes regardless, and then the Stoic goal is to see the adversity rightly and not let one’s peace of mind be destroyed by its arrival." 

"Indeed, the aim of the Stoic is something more: to accept reversal without shock and to make it grist for the creation of greater things."

"Nobody wants hardship in any particular case, but it is a necessary element in the formation of worthy people and worthy achievements that, in the long run, we do want. Stoics seek the value in whatever happens.”

Things that are worthy are sometimes hard.. 

Living up to your virtues and becoming your ideals self might require you to..  

  • Focus for long periods of time
  • Study things that are complex and difficult
  • Take risks, delay satisfaction or choose a more difficult path for yourself than others might

As Ward points out here.  The Stoics don't view adversity as something to seek out!  

But they do view it as something that might happen along your path to living the good life

What should we do when we come up to adversity?

We should do our very best to see it as clearly, un-emotionally and logically as possible.. 

In my experience quite a lot of adversity is actually in the mind. 

Almost everything worthwhile in my own life required me to face some kind of adversity.. 

  • Building business is HARD
  • Studying and understanding the human condition is COMPLEX
  • Relationships and finding the right one can be DIFFICULT
  • But I wouldn't be who I am today if I hadn't gone through each of these adversities..  I wasn't looking for adversity when I found it!  But meeting the challenge was worth it in the end. 
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