If you’re new to Stoicism, this book will not describe in any detail the full history and philosophy of the subject or the major figures of the movement. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll have to look elsewhere (I would recommend How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci).
This book is more focused; it shows the reader how to apply Stoic principles to handle setbacks, obstacles, and adversity. Combining real-life examples, Stoic principles, and modern psychology, William B. Irvine demonstrates how Stoic wisdom can help you to not only overcome challenges, but to actively seek them out as ways to build character and fortitude.
Setbacks are inevitable; our reactions to them are not. If we frame life’s challenges in the appropriate way, we can use adversity to become stronger and more resilient. While we often cannot control the setbacks we face, we can view them as tests of our resolve and opportunities to practice the traits we most admire in others—resilience, grit, optimism, strength, and resolve.
Our natural inclinations to setbacks include avoidance, fear, anger, frustration, and blaming. What they all have in common is that they do nothing to advance our goals, and much to diminish our character. The Stoic response to setbacks is one of emotional control and action, of making the best of any situation and building admirable character traits.
Irvine offers several techniques, including anchoring and negative visualization (to cultivate gratitude), framing setbacks as tests or games, intentionally seeking adversity, and using humor to lighten the situation.
Overall, this book is a nice reminder that your emotional response to setbacks, not your outward behavior alone, is what really counts, and that you can reframe your reactions to setbacks so as to largely remove negative emotions from occurring in the first place. You might even find yourself welcoming adversity as an opportunity to demonstrate your resolve or overcome a fear.
Irvine reminds us that the core function of Stoicism has always been to help the practitioner achieve the optimal frame of mind to meet any challenge, and he repeatedly drives home this important point. For those new to Stoicism, this could come as potentially life-changing advice. But for those not new to Stoicism, it will, at most, come as a useful reminder of principles long established.
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