365 Ways to be More Stoic – an elevator to Stoic success? by Tim LeBon

The following is an introduction to  Tim’s new book, 365 Ways to be more Stoic, including excerpts from the book.


Consider how you would react in these two situations.

Scenario A

Climbing vertically up a rope out of one of Britain’s deepest caves, you discover  that another party has  accidentally pulled up your rope, leaving you and your partner stranded 50 metres below the surface. You begin waiting 12 hours for rescue, in cold and miserable conditions.


Scenario B

In the height of the second wave of COVID, you start to feel ill.  The dreaded red  line appears when you take a test. The following worries creep into your mind.

‘What if I get long COVID?’

‘What if I infect the rest of my household?’

‘I won’t have time to meet my work commitments …’


Before reading further, take a moment to answer these two questions .

  1. How would you most likely react?
  2.  What would be a good Stoic response?

If you have given identical answers to both  questions 1) and 2), then you may already be a Stoic without knowing it – congratulations! If not then my new book,  365 Ways to be more Stoic, might be of assistance.

These two scenarios are amongst the 50+ real life Stoic success stories given in the book.

The first was the predicament young caving enthusiast -and Stoic – John Harlow found himself when trapped  in England’s deepest cave. This is how John responded.

82 Stoic Forgiveness

Waiting for rescue in miserable conditions, I found comfort in Stoicism. We considered what a good and helpful reaction might look like in our situation and avoided casting judgements on our sensations of hunger and cold. That simple reflection certainly helped during our 12-hour wait for rescue in the mud. Once out, however, Stoicism helped me to forgive the individual who had pulled up our rope. He was deeply sorry for his mistake and determined to ensure it never happened again. Without Stoicism, I might have judged his past actions and not his character.


The second scenario was one faced by me personally, ironically as I was writing the chapter on “Coping with adversity.”  Here is my response.


247             My Stoic test – getting COVID-19

Once I took a step back and challenged my negative thinking, Stoicism, as usual, provided a helpful way forward. These were my answers to this particular ‘Stoic test’:

‘What if I get long COVID?’ Don’t catastrophize. You are vaccinated, and this is a milder strain. If you do get long COVID, you will cope with it.

‘What if I infect other members of my household?’ Use the virtues – especially wisdom. Self-isolate. Wear a mask – or two! – if you must be in the same room as them. If you do infect them, don’t blame yourself. Like the Stoic Archer, you did your best.

‘I won’t have time to meet my deadline.’ Catastrophizing again: you should only be out of action for a few days.

My Stoic responses proved to be right on the money. I didn’t get long COVID, I didn’t infect anyone, and I met my deadline!

There was also an unexpected bonus from getting COVID. As a therapist, I frequently support patients who suffer from fatigue. Getting COVID-19 helped me empathize with their experience.


I hope that these and the other real-life stories in the book provide memorable Stoic role models. But wouldn’t it be nice if there were a comprehensive framework to draw on when thinking how to be a Stoic? The one I find most useful, which I draw on in 365 Ways,  is one I call the “Stoic Elevator.”

The “Stoic Elevator”

Imagine you are invited to get into a special elevator, one that takes you on a journey through Stoicism. Here’s what you’ll find at each level:

Level 1 – The dichotomy of control

One of the most useful ideas in Stoicism in practice is surely the dichotomy of control.  This entails cultivating the wisdom to control the controllables – your actions, attitudes and judgments, and the serenity to accept pretty much everything else.

Level 2 – Cultivating the virtues 

Like many ancient philosophies, Stoicism emphasises the importance of developing the virtues, i.e. character strengths that benefit the individual and society. For Stoics, the key “cardinal” virtues are wisdom, courage, self-control and justice. Each cardinal virtue can be expanded into a family of related virtues – for example, justice includes kindness, compassion and love, as well as fairness.

Level 3 – Managing emotions

‘People are disturbed not by things, but by the views  which they take of them.’  Epictetus’s words  from Enchiridion 5.1 provide a pathway to Stoic serenity. Change how you think to change how you feel.  This idea sparked a revolution in mental health care via its influence in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Interestingly , if you dive deeper in Stoicism than the psychologists who created CBT, you  find more there than the CBT therapists realised. In 365 Ways to be More Stoic,  I describe the STOIC procedure  to manage emotions well using Stoicism:

  • Stop,
  • Time out,
  • Observe your initial impressions,
  • Identify Stoic thinking traps and
  • Choose a wise response.

The four main Stoic thinking traps are as easy as ABCD – namely

  • Assumptions,
  • Blame,
  • Catastrophising and
  • neglecting the Stoic Dichotomies of control and value

Level 4 – The dichotomy of value.

Stoics didn’t merely think that virtues were important (level 2 of the Elevator). They thought that living a good life according to the virtues was all you needed to be happy and lead a good life, and that you couldn’t be happy without being virtuous. My colleague Chris Gill refers to this as the “dichotomy of value” (Gill, C, 2021b) – a dichotomy because virtue is the only thing that is unconditionally good. Other things – including health, status and comfort – may be of value,  but less value than virtue. In practice, this means you prioritise virtue over everything else, these being are either preferred or dispreferred “indifferents”.

Level 5 – Stoic physics and worldview 

There is much debate amongst Modern Stoics about how much ancient Stoics relied on Stoic physics and worldview (see, for example  Gill, C (2021a)) and how helpful these ideas are (see Chakrapani, C & LeBon, T (2021).  What is not disputed is that Stoics had some distinctive views in this area, including providence,  amor fati (love your fate), pantheism and determinism.

It’s up to you how far up the Stoic Elevator you want to go.  Should you get off at level 1, then the dichotomy of control will almost certainly have improved your well-being. If you ride up to the next level, cultivating the virtues, you will most likely benefit even more. Modern psychology provides much evidence that the virtues are the royal road to happiness and the ethical life (Kesebir, P. and Diener,E. 2013).  Ride up another level, and you find yourself practising Stoic mindfulness and a Stoic version of CBT – again, there is plenty of evidence to support the value of both of these practices (mindfulness and CBT) independently of Stoicism.  You need to ride to level 4 to get to the ideas that set the ancient Stoics apart from other schools like the Aristotelians -and if you do so, then as we shall see in the two scenarios, you will reap more benefits. If you take a ride to the very top of the Stoic elevator, then your views – and practices – may be indistinguishable from Zeno, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus and the other ancient Stoics.

Let’s explore how these ideas could further help the aspiring Stoic in Scenarios A and B.


Scenario A

Climbing vertically up a rope out of one of Britain’s deepest caves, you discover  that another party has  accidentally pulled up your rope, leaving you and your partner stranded 50 metres below the surface. You begin waiting 12 hours for rescue, in cold and miserable conditions.

1. Dichotomy of control.

I can’t control the conditions or how long it takes to rescue me. I  can control my attitude and what I do.

2. Cultivate the virtues.

    1. Wisdom tells me to focus on use the dichotomy of control and also to realise that the sensations of hunger I feel are simply that, sensations.
    2. I can draw on self-control to manage my anger. Notice how my very description of him here as the “other party” rather than the “guilty party” helps me.
    3. I need justice to forgive the other party. Remembering that he didn’t do it intentionally is a great help here.
    4. I need courage to stay strong in the situation.

3. Managing Emotions

I will not assume he did this on purpose, or even from extreme carelessness. I will  resist blaming the other party, understanding, as Marcus Aurelius did in his Meditations 2.1, that others do harm unintentionally.

I won’t catastrophise – I have left instructions for a trusted friend to rescue me if I am not back by a certain time, I can survive here during that time.

I won’t get frustrated by trying to control what I can’t control, such as the fact that the rope has gone or that rescue hasn’t yet arrived.

4. Dichotomy of value

What matters above all is preserving my character. I need to prioritise this above all else and remember that even if I weren’t to be rescued at all,  it would matter less than how I dealt with the situation.

5. Stoic physics and worldview.

I should accept my fate willingly, as in Cleanthes’s story of the dog who accepts being tied to the cart, rather than struggling against its fate (and risking being strangled). I can  reframe this as a Stoic opportunity to learn how to be virtuous. Perhaps being trapped will actually turn out to be a good thing. Who knows, I could write about it and be a Stoic inspiration to others!

Although you might be thinking that what John really needed was a real elevator to get out of the cave, the Stoic elevator can provide assistance all the time.


Scenario B

In the height of the second wave of COVID, you start to feel ill.  The dreaded red  line appears when you take a test. The following worries creep into your mind.

‘What if I get long COVID?’

‘What if I infect the rest of my household?’

‘I won’t have time to meet my work commitments …’


Let’s see how the Stoic Elevator can help.

1. Dichotomy of control.

I can’t control whether I get long COVID.

I can control how much I worry about that.

I can’t control 100% whether I infect others but I can exercise virtues to minimise the chances.

I can’t  100% control whether I meet all I work commitments but I can control how I communicate my situation to those affected.

2. Cultivate the virtues

I need …

a. Self-control – to manage worry.

b. Justice – to be cautious in terms of my interaction with other household members.

c. Courage – to tell other people I may not be able to meet commitments.

d. Wisdom – to use the dichotomy of control and look at things from a virtues lens, moment to moment.

3. Managing my emotions

a. Don’t assume I will get long COVID. Stay with what I know for a fact.

b. Don’t blame myself or others for getting COVID.

c. Don’t catastrophise. Most likely, I will just be out of action for a week, and that’s not terrible.

d. Don’t focus on what I cannot control, focus instead on my attitudes and actions, and I will feel less frustrated and more hopeful.

4. Dichotomy of value

All that matters is preserving my character. COVID can’t stop me being a good person. The things I am worried about are less important than this.

5. Stoic physics and worldview

I can accept my fate willingly. Maybe it is a Stoic test to see how well I can practice Stoicism when put to the test.

How do these answers compare with your own?  If you came up with other good Stoic ways of handling them, please feel free to add them to the comments below.

My hope is that the 50+ success  stories provided in the book, and all the Stoic ideas described in the Stoic Elevator, will help readers to learn more about Stoicism and build up a consistent practice. The book is divided into 365 short entries, so readers  could decide to do one a day, say over their morning coffee, and thereby build Stoicism into their daily routine.  We’ve found from ten years of Stoic Weeks that practising Stoicism for a week can be of great benefit – so how much more will you  get it you practice Stoicism for a whole year?

Tim LeBon is part of the Modern Stoicism team, focusing on research and assessment. He is also a senior CBT psychotherapist in the NHS and a CBT therapist and  Stoic Life Coach in private practice. His latest book is 365 Ways to be More Stoic , which was edited by Kasey Pierce and is available from John Murray Press.
You can find out more on the Instagram and Facebook , Tim’s website www.timlebon.com and his YouTube-channel. 



Chakrapani, C & LeBon, T   (2021) Stoicism: Cobwebs and Gems


Gill C, (2021a)  Marcus on the Dichotomy of Value and Response https://modernstoicism.com/marcus-on-the-dichotomy-of-value-and-response-by-chris-gill/

Gill, C, (2021b) Do Stoic Ethics depend on the Stoic Worldview? https://modernstoicism.com/do-stoic-ethics-depend-on-the-stoic-worldview-by-chris-gill/

Kesebir,P and Diener, E (2013) A Virtuous Cycle: The Relationship Between Happiness and Virtue SSRN Electronic Journal http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2309566

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