Medium: How to Actually Practice Stoicism

Use these Three Simple Techniques in Daily Life

Stoicism has experienced a surge in popularity over recent years, especially during the pandemic. It can provide people with a philosophy of life that holds the promise of greater emotional resilience. Today, the original Greek philosophy is known mainly through the works of three famous Stoics from the Roman imperial period: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. It’s also been popularized by modern authors such as Ryan Holiday and Massimo Pigliucci. I’m the author of several books that compare Stoic advice to techniques used in modern cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). So my focus is on how we can all benefit by applying Stoicism in the modern world.

Many people are unclear about how the philosophy is meant to be lived.

There is already a huge amount of Stoic self-help advice available on the Internet but I still find many people are unclear about how the philosophy is meant to be lived. It’s partly because Stoicism is quite a complex philosophy, with a lot of literature. That can make it confusing for people looking for a place to start applying it in daily life. So let’s keep things as simple and practical as possible in order answer the common question: How do I actually put Stoicism into practice in daily life?

  1. The Dichotomy of Control
  2. Cognitive Distancing
  3. The Goal of Life

Read the rest of this article on Medium…

Marcus Aurelius Stoicism Verissimus Videos

Facebook Live on Marcus Aurelius

Watch the video of my live session on Marcus Aurelius, showcasing some of the artwork and behind the scenes secrets of our graphic novel, Verissimus.

Books Stoicism Verissimus

Verissimus Sweepstake Alert

We’re delighted to announce that my publisher St. Martin’s Press has generously agreed to give away three signed copies of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.

Just share your favourite images from the book on social media and use #Verissimus!

How to Enter

  • Share a photo of the cover of Verissimus, or of the artwork inside, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, using the hashtag #Verissimus.
  • We will pick three winners at random after 7th September, the closing date for entries.
  • This sweepstake is open to residents of the US and Canada only.
Marcus Aurelius Stoicism

Medium: How Stoicism can Make you a Better Leader

What the Stoics actually said about kingship, applied to leadership

Verissimus Poster

How better or how otherwise could a man be a good ruler or live a good life than by studying philosophy? For my part, I believe that the good king is straightway and of necessity a philosopher, and the philosopher a kingly person. — Musonius Rufus

The ancient Stoics believed that it was essential for anyone who wants to be a leader to study philosophy. Indeed, the most famous Stoic of all was Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor, who saw Stoicism as essential training for his role. The Stoic teachers who came before him wrote entire books on leadership, under titles such as On Kingship or The Statesman. Most of these are lost, unfortunately, but in the 1st century AD, the famous Stoic teacher Musonius Rufus, gave a lecture titled That kings also should study philosophy, which survives today. Kingship is one type of leadership, but as we’ll see, if we adapt the words of Musonius’ lecture, most of what he says is still relevant, and it provides us, in summary form, with a Stoic manual for modern-day leadership.

Read the rest of this article on Medium.

Marcus Aurelius Podcasts Stoicism

Conversation with Ryan Holiday about Marcus Aurelius

I recently spoke with author Ryan Holiday about our mutual fascination with the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, on the Daily Stoic podcast. You can also download the episode from Spotify or Apple Podcasts, among others. If you found our chat interesting, please share your comments or questions on Twitter, for me to read, and tag DonJRobertson.

Verissimus Cover
Stoicism Verissimus

Stoic Graphic Novel on Instagram

🎨 You can check out samples of artwork from Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius shared by accounts on Instagram. Please share your own photos using #Verissimus.

Psychotherapy Resilience Stoicism

How Stoicism Could Help You Build Resilience

Combining stoic philosophy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

  • Stoicism is an ancient Greek school of philosophy that inspired modern cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Stoics like Epictetus taught that it’s not things that upset us but rather our opinions (cognitions) about them.
  • People identify with Stoicism as a philosophy of life, which may be more permanent than skills learned in CBT or resilience training.

Read the rest of this article on Psychology Today…


Stoicism and Tattoos

How to ink what it is Stoic to think

One of the most common questions I’m asked (honestly!) is what would make a good Stoic tattoo. If that surprises some people, it makes perfect sense to others, myself included — yes, I’m in the pro-tattoo camp! In this article, I’ll talk about the concept of Stoic tattoos, give some example phrases, and then talk about a Stoic tattoo I had done recently in Athens.

First off, Stoicism tattoos are definitely a thing. I’ve seen countless photos of people with Marcus Aurelius tattoos and the occasional quote from Seneca. There are Pinterest boards of Stoicism tattoo ideas, a blog article listing examples, and it’s a recurring question on the Stoicism Subreddit. We were paid the ultimate compliment recently when someone, out of the blue, sent us a photo of a tattoo based on artwork by Zé Nuno Fraga, the award-winning illustrator of our Stoicism graphic novel, Verissimus: the Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.

There is, however, a logical reason for getting a Stoic tattoo. Not out of vanity, because it looks cool, but as a mnemonic or reminder.

Read the rest of this article on Medium

Books Philosophy Philosophy of CBT Psychotherapy Stoicism

The Books I’ve Written on Stoicism

I’ve published about seven books so far on philosophy and psychotherapy. People often ask about one book but aren’t aware of the others so I’ve put together a short article explaining what they’re about. If you’re interested, you can see more info on my publications, including journal articles, some foreign translations, and books on psychotherapy not mentioned below, on my Google Scholar, Goodreads, and Amazon profile pages.

1. Ancient Lives: Marcus Aurelius (in press)

This is a prose biography of Marcus Aurelius, which will be part of the new Yale University Press Ancient Lives series, edited by James Romm. This book is finished and should (I think) be published around Spring 2023. This was the third book that I wrote in a row about Marcus Aurelius. It focuses on how Stoic philosophy influenced his life, and his rule as emperor, and how his personal relationships shaped and reveal aspects of his character. For instance, the first chapter focuses on Marcus’ relationship with his mother. I’ll publish more details on social media as they become available.

2. Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Verissimus Cover

Verissimus is a graphic novel, published in July 2022, by St, Martin’s Press. It tells the story of Marcus Aurelius’ life in comic-book panels, with a lot of emphasis on his study and application of Stoic philosophy, particularly how it helped him to conquer his anger.

This was the second of three books that I wrote about the life of Marcus Aurelius, and how it connected with his philosophy. The graphic novel format meant that it’s a very different experience, though, from reading a prose biography or a self-help book. I wrote this book for adults – it’s a graphic novel not a comic – but I have to admit that a lot of readers have said their kids were attracted to the cover design and artwork, and stole their copy!

3. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor (2019) is a self-help book. Most of the chapters begin with an anecdote from the life of Marcus Aurelius, closely based on the surviving historical sources. This is followed by a discussion of how Stoic philosophy can be applied in daily life, and then a comparison with techniques from modern cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which draw on my clinical background as a psychotherapist.

When I first proposed this book the title and the idea of combining three genres (history, philosophy, and psychology) seemed controversial – like a bit of a gamble – but it worked. Roman Emperor is my most popular book. It was the number one bestselling philosophy book in the US in the weeks following its release and was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. It’s since been translated into eighteen different languages.

4. Teach Yourself: Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013) is part of Hodder’s popular Teach Yourself series. It was so popular that a revised second edition was published in 2018, which added an extra chapter on death contemplation. This is a self-help book, which provides careful instructions on how to apply Stoic practices in daily life. It also includes many comparisons with cognitive-behavioural therapy and other evidence-based psychological strategies.

The Teach Yourself series follows a strict and well-established format. Chapters begin with relevant quotes, and short quizzes, and include practical exercises, guides to terminology, key points to remember, examples, recommended reading, etc. It’s designed to make it easy to put the advice into practice in daily life.

5. Teach Yourself: Build your Resilience

build your resilience book cover

Build your Resilience (2012) was my first book for Hodder’s Teach Yourself series. It’s a self-help book about what psychologists call “emotional resilience training”, which is basically training in preventative strategies designed to reduce the risk of mental health problems in the future by making you more able to cope with stressful situations. Like Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, it follows a strict self-help guide format, with lots of info boxes, and practical steps described.

Resilience building draws heavily on cognitive-behavioural therapy but I mainly focused on recent “third-wave” approaches, particularly Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). There are also chapters discussing research on resilience and vulnerability, and evidence-based approaches to relaxation techniques, worry management, and problem-solving. This book contains a lot of practical psychological advice – I wrote it partly to be used by my own CBT clients and trainee therapists. However, it also contains a chapter on Stoicism and references to Stoicism are interspersed throughout, comparing Stoic concepts and techniques to the evidence-based psychological approaches employed in modern resilience training.

6. The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Philosophy of CBT Cover 2nd Edition

The Philosophy of CBT (2010) was my first book on Stoicism. I’d already been researching the subject, writing about it, speaking about it at conferences, etc., for over a decade before I decided to publish a book. So it contains a wealth of research on the history of philosophy and psychotherapy. My first degree is in philosophy (Aberdeen) and my masters was in philosophy and psychotherapy, at an interdisciplinary centre in Sheffield University. I then trained in counselling and psychotherapy, which became my profession. I wanted to do a PhD about Stoic philosophy and cognitive-behavioural therapy but couldn’t find a university department with a suitably qualified supervisor. So, to cut a long story short, I ended up just writing a book, instead of a dissertation, which was published in the UK by Karnac.

Karnac were later bought by Routledge, who commissioned me to produce a revised second edition in 2020, as the book had become so popular. The new edition contains an additional chapter focusing on more recent “third-wave” approaches to cognitive-behavioural therapy, and how they compare to Stoicism. I was surprised at its reception because it was intended as an academic publication, aimed at philosophers and psychologists – but very few of them read it! Instead, by accident, it somehow reached a “lay” audience, who embraced it as a sort of self-help guide to Stoicism. So I accidentally found myself making the transition from academic researcher and writer, to self-help author.

Other Books

I’ve also contributed chapters to several books on Stoicism.

  1. “The Stoic Influence on Modern Psychotherapy” in The Routledge Handbook of the Stoic Tradition (2016), edited by John Sellars
  2. Introduction to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations: The Philosophy Classic (Capstone Classics, 2020), which I also helped edit
  3. Introduction to Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic: The Ancient Classic (Capstone, 2021)
  4. “Marcus Aurelius and Psychotherapy” in The Cambridge Companion to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (in press).
Books Marcus Aurelius Stoicism Verissimus

Reviews of Verissimus

Our graphic novel, Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, was published by St. Martin’s on 12th July. There are lots of early reviews of Verissimus already on Goodreads. This post contains a video review by Greg Sadler and links to various other reviews by bloggers. (If I’ve missed one, post it in the comments section below please!)

  • Casey Douglas: “The imagery brings the life of Marcus, and various elements of Stoic philosophy, into a rich and vibrant level of clarity, and it does this in a way that’s as enjoyable as it is educational.”
  • What is Stoicism?: “The great thing about Verissimus is that it’s accessible to people of all levels of expertise. Not only will it introduce Stoicism to a new audience, but it will also help reinforce key details and concepts for those already familiar.”
  • Enda Harte: “Donald and his small team have crafted a well thought out, thoroughly researched, and cleverly illustrated piece of work for anyone to pick up on any given weekend, and digest to their heart’s content.”
  • Bob Cymber, the Stoic Coach: “I would come to appreciate the Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius even more than I thought possible.”
  • Nancy Famolari: “It is also a delight to read. If you’re interested in Roman history, or Stoic philosophy, I highly recommend this book.”
  • Jamie Ryder at Stoic Athenaeum: “Donald Robertson’s Verissimus is an ideal story for making Stoicism fun for a new generation.”
  • Chuck Chakrapani in the Stoic Gym: “Donald Robertson and Ze Nuno Fraga have done a masterful job of bringing the dead Emperor to life. By interweaving Marcus’s philosophy with his life, they have made Stoicism come alive.”

There was also a more critical review in Publisher’s Weekly: the reviewer thought the story packed in too much history and philosophy.

You may also be interested in this Medium article on How I wrote Verissimus, or the interview I did for The Comic Vault. You can preview a sample 30 pages including artwork from Verissimus on Google Books.

Endorsements from Other Authors

  • “Donald Robertson is one of my favorite writers about Stoicism.” – Ryan Holiday, #1 New York Times bestselling author and founder of The Daily Stoic
  • “A superb graphic novel that provides stunning insights into one of the most interesting figures of antiquity, as well as into the philosophy that guided him throughout his life.” — Massimo Pigliucci, author of How to Be a Stoic
  • “Whether you’re new to Marcus Aurelius or already know him as a friend and guide, this graphic novel will open your eyes… Author and artist have found… a brilliant combination of entertainment and education.” – Robin Waterfield, translator of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus
  • “Verissimus represents the vanguard of the next phase of the ongoing Stoic renaissance.” – William B. Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life
  • “A remarkable work that is awesome in its conception and execution.” – Karen Duffy, author of Backbone: Living with Chronic Pain without Turning into One and Wise Up
  • “This is a wonderful and engaging introduction to the life and thought of Marcus Aurelius… It’s the perfect book for anyone who wants to learn more about the man behind the Meditations.” – John Sellars, author of Lessons in Stoicism
  • “Donald Robertson continues to be my teacher when it comes to the depth of Stoicism… Invaluable!” – Mo Gawdat, author of Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy.
Verissimus Cover