How Stoicism Can Help Improve Your Mental Health

In this podcast (episode #421) and blog, I talk to philosopher and bestselling author Ryan Holiday about the power of stoicism, how to develop discipline and self-regulation, and so much more!

As Ryan points out, ancient thinkers knew a lot about what it means to be human. Even though they were not neuroscientists, and even though they didn’t have access to all the technological and medical advances we have today, ancient writings are filled with wisdom that can help us lead better lives. Just because something is “old” doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from it!

One ancient philosophy Ryan is incredibly passionate about is stoicism, which he argues can help us function in the modern world. This ancient philosophy was not characterized by people just sitting around and talking about ideas and abstractions. Stoicism was embraced by real people with real jobs trying to become better people in all senses of that word.  

Stoicism’s two most famous practitioners were Marcus Aurelius, a powerful Roman emperor, and Epictetus, a philosopher who was born into slavery. Both of these men found internal freedom and resilience through the practice of stoicism, even though their circumstances were very different. They embraced the key tenets of stoicism: 

We all have the ability to choose how we respond to the life changes
We should seek to grow and become better humans every day
We should live according to a code—a certain set of standards

In his new book Discipline is Destiny, Ryan discusses stoicism and one of the key virtues of ancient philosophy: self-discipline. As Ryan notes in his book, regardless of our individual circumstances, if we don’t check ourselves, even if we have access to unlimited resources, we can end up crashing and burning—self-discipline is an essential part of a well-lived life. It is the way forward; self-discipline helps make what we want to do with our lives possible. It is not just a means to an end. Self-discipline is an end unto itselfit helps make the thing that you are doing both enjoyable and fulfilling. 

Self-discipline is not necessarily easy. It is one of the four cardinal virtues of ancient philosophy alongside courage(which Ryan has also written a book about), justice and wisdom. All of these virtues require a willingness on our part to choose to pursue a more fulfilled life. These virtues are not about instant gratification or easy satisfaction. Like the Greek hero Hercules, virtues like self-discipline require that we choose to walk the more challenging path as we learn and grow as a person.  

In today’s world, many of us are looking for hacks and shortcuts, but there are no shortcuts. So much of success comes down to showing up, putting in the work, and following the process. There is no one magical, breakthrough thing to get you where you want to go—it is a slow, iterative process. And the more energy you spend thinking about the outcome, the less energy you have for the process in the present. We need to learn to trust the process, and do what we need to do. We need to learn to trust that our goal is being reached little by little,day by day, whether we are seeking out happiness, want to complete a task like writing a book, or anything else.

This is actually very exciting, because as human beings we can change and grow. We are not “fixed” in a negative or positive way. Who we were in the past doesn’t have to define our future, and who we are now won’t be forever

The key thing to remember as you work towards a goal is that sometimes transitions are as important as achievements. Perfectionism is a myth, but changes are not, and they lead to true growth over time. Perfectionism shouldn’t be equated with discipline. If you just focus on being perfect, you can end up getting caught in your own head. 

Even if you do get everything you want, or everything goes to plan, you can still be unhappy. Yes, you may have the freedom to make your own decisions and live the life you want, but if you don’t develop internal command and self-discipline, you can quickly crash and burn. We all need boundaries and self-discipline to be a well-rounded, effective and healthy person 

And discipline will look different for different people. For some people, it may look like getting off the couch and working. For others, discipline may require rest and self-boundaries. Self-discipline, at its heart, means mastering ourselves before someone or something else masters us. Discipline is the great equalizer: no matter who or where we are, we all need self-discipline to live a fulfilled life.

But this means more than just physical discipline. Yes, we need to exercise and eat well, and if we are working towards a physical goal, we have to train our bodies. However, our temperament is equally important. What does our mental discipline look like? How do we respond to our triggers? Does the way we respond move us back, or forward? We have to have command of ourselves mentally and physically to live a fulfilled life. 

For more about self-discipline, stoicism and mental health, listen to my podcast with Ryan (episode #421), and check out his amazing work. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).  

You can now also join me on Patreon for exclusive, ad-free content! Sign up for a membership level that suits you, and receive access to ad-free exclusive bonus podcasts. These episodes will include more targeted, step-by-step guides for specific mental health issues AND some fun, more personal podcasts about topics like my favorite skincare products and favorite books, as well as live Q&As, fan polls and requests, and exclusive digital downloads! 

This podcast is sponsored by:

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Podcast Highlights 

3:20 Why ancient truths still have power today

4:19 Why Ryan is so passionate about stoicism  

6:45 Why discipline is destiny 

10:15, 13:44 The 4 virtues of ancient philosophy & why they are important 

20:00 Embracing the process, not just the outcome

27:00 The truth about perfectionism 

31:30 You can have everything & still be unhappy

35:10 Why we all need self-discipline

38:25 Discipline can take on a lot of forms

41:05 Redefining hustle culture 

43:36 Ryan’s new book Discipline is Destiny 

47:00 Why the little things do matter

49:43 Why temperament is important  

51:20 The power of patience

52:25 The difference between self-discipline & discipline 

53:40 Enduring the unendurable  

Switch On Your Brain LLC. is providing this podcast as a public service. Reference to any specific viewpoint or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by our organization. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. If you have any questions about this disclaimer, please contact     

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional. 

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