The Importance of Perseverance: The Stoic Devotion to Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Daily Stoic" by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you committed to lifelong improvement? Do you consider that others depend on you to do your part in this world?

The Stoics were all about living a virtuous life, and they saw it as a marathon, not a sprint. Because of this, they emphasized the importance of perseverance. You must make a commitment to living virtuously and then stick with it.

Continue reading to understand the Stoic view of perseverance.

A Life of Perseverance 

The Stoics believed that we should respond to life with courage and justice. One way to do that is by following through on our commitment to living virtuously. As the Stoics saw it, the job of living a virtuous life is long-term, so we need to figure out how we can stick to it.

To highlight the importance of perseverance, the authors offer an insight from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius into dealing with flagging motivation: Remind yourself that others depend on you to do what’s right. For him, this wasn’t about his special role as emperor, it was about his essential role as a human being. In his view, all humans depend on each other to do what’s right. If we don’t do our part—whether big or small—others suffer in a world a little more deprived of virtue.  

(Shortform note: Marcus Aurelius motivated himself by appealing to his sense of belonging: Feeling connected to something larger than himself gave him purpose. In his case, this sense of belonging came from his deeply held philosophical beliefs. Others may find purpose in their religious beliefs. In either case, psychologists agree that commitment to overarching values—rather than a commitment to just yourself, your family, or your community—makes you more resilient to stress and hardship.) 

Another way the authors recommend you increase your follow-through is to be patient and take it slow. By rushing into things—taking on responsibility too quickly, for instance—we run the risk of burning out. It’s far better to keep a slow and steady pace that you can maintain. 

This holds for the abstract notion of pursuing virtue, but it’s also true of our concrete obligations such as our work or our role as citizens or partners. For the Stoics, the way we treat our small, day-to-day tasks comes to characterize our entire lives. Therefore, it’s important for all of us to do the best we can at a pace we can sustain for the long haul.

(Shortform note: Experts argue that feeling tempted to give up on your obligations is a sign that your approach to those obligations should change. If you begin to feel cynical for instance, it’s a sign that you’ve lost sight of your purpose. Likewise, feeling exhausted indicates that you need more sleep, exercise, or nutrition. Paying attention to these signs is a practical way to implement the Stoic’s advice to follow through on your goal of living well.)

The Importance of Perseverance: The Stoic Devotion to Life

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Daily Stoic summary:

  • Insights from ancient Stoic philosophers on how to live a good life
  • Stoic practices you can follow on a daily basis
  • Why you should think about death more often

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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