Report on Stoic Week 2020 Tim LeBon and Greg Lopez

The ninth annual Stoic Week took place in October 2020. This year’s theme was: Stoicism during a Pandemic: Care for Ourselves, Others and our World.

From a research perspective we were investigating 3 questions:

  1. Is Stoicism a good life philosophy for lockdown?
  2. Can we predict who will benefit most from Stoic Week?[i]
  3. What is the relationship of Epictetus’s “3 disciplines “ to well-being and to Stoicism as measured by the SABS?

This report provides answers to these three questions. Details of the course contents, measures used and further statistical findings are provided in the appendices. Click here to read the full report.

1. Is Stoicism a good life philosophy for lockdown?

There were significant improvements in the well-being of participants over the course of Stoic Week.

 Life SatisfactionFlourishingPositive EmotionsNegative Emotions
Change13% Increase11% Increase11% Increase19% reduction
Table 1: Impact of taking part in Stoic Week

Other findings of note

  • Participants degree of Stoicism (as measured by SABS) increased by 9%
  • Participants’ stated their knowledge of Stoicism as having increased by 24%
  • Participants’ identifying themselves as  a Stoic increased by 16%
  • There was a significant change in scores on some personality traits, especially emotional stability (18% increase), agreeableness and conscientiousness, but no significant change in openness to experience or extraversion. (see appendix C for more details)
  • Some of the Stoic Attitudes and Behaviour Scale (SABS) items most related to well-being (#48 and #33) improved by very significant amounts, as shown in table 2 below.
#Statement% Change
48Even when I can’t do anything more about a problem I still worry about it a lot.28
33I spend quite a lot of time worrying about the future.23
3If bad things happen to you, you are bound to feel distressed.21
19I spend quite a lot of time dwelling on what has gone wrong in the past.20
23 I cannot really be harmed by what other people say.19
45Every day I spend some time thinking about how I can best face challenges in the day ahead.18
4Having good understanding and good character is all that is required in order to be happy.17
8Bad luck could stop me being happy.17
39It is right to feel intense and overwhelming grief after a significant loss17
38When a negative thought enters my mind, I remind myself that it is just an interpretation of the situation.17
Table 2 – SABS items with the biggest improvement

The top 4 items are strongly connected with Stoic management of the emotions.

The qualitative feedback given at the end of Stoic Week were also very positive.

Sample comments from Participants at end of Stoic Week 2020

  • Just want to thank you for offering the course. It has been so helpful to me in this time of … uncertainty pain and challenge.
  • It was wonderful and it taught me a lot about self control.
  • Well researched with depth of knowledge to a historic way of thinking!
  • This has been a fabulous free course and resource. The exercises are easy to follow and incorporate in my daily life.
  • Excellent experience.
  • Very helpful and thought provoking

How did Stoic Week 2020 compare with previous Stoic Weeks?

Stoic Week has consistently led to significant improvements in well-being since its inception in 2012, so a key question we were interested in is – was Stoic Week more beneficial in 2020 than in previous years?

 Stoic Week 2020  Stoic Week 2019  Stoic Week 2018Stoic Week 2017Stoic Week 2016Stoic Week 2015Stoic Week 2014
Increase in Flourishing11%7.5%8%10%10%10%10%
Increase in Satisfaction with Life13%11.5%12%14%15%15%16%
Increase in Positive Emotions11%9.5%9.5%11%10%10%11%
Reduction in Negative Emotions19%17%14%14%14%14%16%
Increase In Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours9%8%10%9%11%13%12%
No of participants at start16081725370228701803  25031953
Valid questionnaires completed at end527416852689270726566
Completion Rate30%24%23%24%15%29%29%
Table 3 Overall Findings Stoic Week 2020 –  Impact of taking part in Stoic Week

It can be seen that Stoic Week 2020 showed improvements over 2019 and 2018 in terms of most measurements. For example, flourishing increased by 11% – the highest ever and a nearly 50% increase on 2019. Life satisfaction and positive emotions also increased by more than in 2019 and negative reductions, which had decreased by a record 17% in 2019, increased even more (19%) in 2020.

It would however be premature to conclude from this that Stoicism works better in lockdown than in normal times. The changes could also be partly attributed to random variations or to changes in the delivery of the course this year. The course content was very similar to 2019, with additional lockdown-related examples being added. However there were 2 enhancements that may have improved the efficacy of the course.

  • As requested by many participants,  a reminder of the day’s materials were sent once a day by email as a “prompt”
  • Short instructional videos related to course material were provided for each day

 These 2 enhancements may be partly responsible for the improved completion rates, which increased from 24% to 30% , i.e. an  increase in 25%. Again, we cannot be certain whether this improvement was due to the above enhancements or due to the different conditions caused by the pandemic or both [ii].

2. Can we predict who will benefit the most from Stoic Week?

We also dove into some demographic and personality data to see if we could discover whether some people benefited more from Stoic Week 2020 than others.

In terms of personality traits, we found people who started Stoic Week 2020 with lower conscientiousness and lower emotional stability (the opposite of neuroticism) benefited more from Stoic Week than those who started Stoic Week with higher levels of these two traits. More specifically, conscientiousness and stability were quite highly predictive of Flourishing improvement over the course of Stoic Week and moderately predictive of improvement in life satisfaction.

However, the other three personality traits we measured (openness to experience, extraversion, and agreeableness) didn’t really affect how much people got out of Stoic Week.[iii]

People who put in more time seemed to get a bit more benefit for life satisfaction (SWL) and emotions  (SPANE), but not flourishing. However, the relationship was very weak.[iv]

Finally, some demographic variables had some effect on the outcomes while others didn’t. Gender had no association with any outcome. However, younger people tended to get slightly more benefit, as did people who participated in fewer Stoic Weeks in the past. [v]

3. What is the relationship of Epictetus’s “3 disciplines“ to well-being and to Stoicism as measured by the SABS?

The 3 disciplines or topics  (topoi)  found in Epictetus’s Discourses were used by Epictetus as a pedagogic device for teaching Stoicism. Many modern Stoics including Pierre Hadot, Donald Robertson, Massimo Pigliucci, Greg Lopez and Ryan Holiday have emphasised the 3 disciplines in their presentations of Stoicism.

The 3 disciplines are

  • The discipline of  desire  (or will)– concerned with  Stoic acceptance and with having the appropriate desires and aversions
  • The discipline of action  – concerned with doing the right things  and with virtue, duty and philanthropy.
  • The discipline of assent  (sometimes called  perception or  judgement)– concerned with Stoic mindfulness of how we perceive and judge things

Pigliucci & Lopez created a scale (here called the “Three Disciplines Scale”) to measure each discipline and to give a total score. In Stoic Week 2020 we measured participants on each scale at the beginning and end of Stoic Week. We could therefore answer these 3 questions

  1. How much each discipline (as measured by the Scale) is associated with well-being and the SABS
ScaleSWLSPANEPositive EmotionsNegative EmotionsFlourishSABS
 Discipline of assent0.30.30.30.20.40.5
 Discipline of action0.40.40.30.30.50.5
 Discipline of desire0.30.40.30.40.40.5
 3 disciplines (total)0.40.40.40.40.50.6
Table 4 Correlations between 3 Disciplines scales and well-being and SABS scale at the start of Stoic Week 2020

As can be seen in table 4, there was a moderate association between each of the 3 disciplines and each well-being measure. Unsurprisingly, the discipline of action had a fairly high correlation with Flourishing and Satisfaction with Life (SWL).  Less predictable was the relatively low correlation between the discipline of assent with negative emotions.  There was also a moderate to high correlation between the 3 disciplines and the SABS, providing some support for the scale’s validity

Does Stoic Week improve people’s scores in each of the 3 Disciplines?

Each of the three disciplines showed significant increase as a result of Stoic Week as shown in table 5. The discipline of desire increased the most. This suggest that Stoic Week does help people progress in each area.

Discipline of:DesireActionAssent
% Increase13.68.69.5
Table 5  Changes in 3 disciplines scores during Stoic Week 2020

Do changes in any of the 3 disciplines predict changes in well-being?

Finally, it is interesting to see how changes in the 3 disciplines relate to changes in well-being over the course of Stoic Week.

EmotionsNegative EmotionsPositive EmotionsLife SatisfactionFlourish
3 Disciplines Total0.390.370.300.330.43
Discipline of Desire0.310.310.220.260.34
Discipline of Action0.300.300.210.290.32
Discipline of Assent0.260.220.240.190.29
SABS0.450.380.400.360.53
Table 6  Correlations of changes during Stoic Week 2020

Table 6 shows the correlation between changes in each of the 3 disciplines, the 3 disciplines total and the SABS with changes in each of the well-being scales. The higher the figure, the more a change is well-being has been associated with a change in the scale. For example, changes in the discipline of desire have a .31 association with changes in emotions.

It can be noted that

  • Each of the 3 disciplines has a moderate association with changes in well-being
  • There is no clear “winner” amongst the 3 disciplines in terms of impact on well-being
  • The SABS has a somewhat higher association with changes in well-being than the three disciplines

Conclusions

  1. People benefitted somewhat more from Stoic Week during the pandemic than in more normal times. This is consistent with the findings of SMRT from earlier in 2020[vi]. It does not surprise us that Stoicism is particularly suited for a pandemic and so we would encourage organisations and individuals to run Stoic courses to aid resilience at such times.  It should be added that the positive results from previous Stoic Weeks would lead us to the conclusion that  “Stoicism is not just for a pandemic it is for life”.
  2. The innovations of including daily e-mail prompts and short instructional videos may have in part been responsible for improved  completion rates and should be retained.
  3.  There is a case for pre-screening people to see who would benefit most. These would  include younger people, those who haven’t done Stoic Week before and those having low starting conscientiousness and emotionality stability.
  4. The 3 Disciplines Scales provides a useful brief measurement tool. Each of the 3 disciplines is correlated with well-being, with the discipline of desire having the strongest association. Changes in well-being appear equally associated with changes in each of the 3 disciplines.

[i] Greg Lopez  wrote this part of the report

[ii] Drop-out rates for Stoic Weeks have actually been quite low compared to other on-line trainings – see https://www.learningrevolution.net/online-course-retention-rate/

[iii] These findings were consistent across all three of our main outcomes (SWL, SPANE, and Flourishing) and across metrics, including raw correlation coefficients, simple linear regression, and ridge regression using a random 80% sample from our data. The results are all shown in the table below. “Correlation” is the raw correlation coefficient, “Simple linear regression” is the non-normalized coefficient from a simple linear regression, and “Ridge regression” is the non-normalized coefficient fitting against 80% of the data with an optimal lambda selected via cross-validation.

[iv] By linear regression, every minute per day spent on Stoic Week yielded a 0.02 point increase in SWL (R-squared 0.01) and a 0.04 increase in SPANE (R-squared 0.02). There was no statistically significant effect of time on Flourishing.

[v] By one-way ANOVA via the Kruskal-Wallis test followed by pairwise comparisons.

[vi] See https://modernstoicism.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/SMRT-2020-Results-1.0.pdf

Greg Lopez is the founder and facilitator of the New York City Stoics, and cofounder and board member of The Stoic Fellowship. He is also on the team for Modern Stoicism, and co-facilitates Stoic Camp New York with Massimo Pigliucci, with whom he co-authored A Handbook for New Stoics.

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.

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