Self-Mastery, Self-Discipline, and Freedom

“No man is free who is not a master of himself.”

– Epictetus

Stoicism has been popularized in recent years. Individuals like Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Workweek) and Ryan Holiday (The Daily Stoic) have discovered and advocate for the practical benefits of Stoic philosophy. It is great to see a growing interest in philosophy—to see that individuals are starting to recognize its value and explore how to incorporate it into their lives.

Many philosophers identify a connection between self-mastery and freedom.

“Man conquers the world by conquering himself.”

– Zeno

To be free is to be self-determining. We cannot control everything. Many things in the world are out of our control. We do, however, have or can have control over ourselves, over our thoughts and actions.

Epictetus, for example, advised that we should “make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it occurs.”

“make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it occurs.”

– Epictetus

The Stoics believed that we have power over our attitudes, over how we think about and interpret events. When we exercise self-control, we can choose how we see something and how we want to respond to it. We are free when we are in possession of our thoughts, because we determine ourselves rather than let ourselves be determined by events.  

The greatest obstacles we face are often self-imposed. Learning how to control our attitude, how we think, is true freedom because it frees us from the limits and blocks that otherwise bar us from living the life we want. Our fear prevents us from doing what we want. Our emotions cause our imagination to run wild, and we lose ourselves.   

The freedom to think, to determine how we respond to what is out of our control, is the freedom to determine who we are. Once we admit what is in our power, we also admit what is not. This is an important distinction and the realization of which saves us much time and wasted effort.

“the…freedom of spirit that is just as much self-mastery and discipline of the heart and that permits one to take the paths of many varied and opposed ways of thinking.”

– Nietzsche

Do you agree? Is self-mastery the path to freedom?

Thanks for reading.

To learn more about Stoicism and how to incorporate it into your life, check out Episode 6 of The Existential Stoic Podcast:

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