Don Rogers: How a Stoic tackles stress


Well, I am not taking a cold shower, OK?

Other than that, pop Stoic philosopher Ryan Holiday has a perfectly sensible list of stress busters. Who can’t use that in these times?

And anyone who tells me to read a book, exercise and laugh as part of a self-improvement regimen … well, yeah! I’m listening.

The icy water thing, though. Just thinking of freezing that early in the morning jolts me plenty. I’d be stressed out all night. I wouldn’t get up when I get up.

I don’t know Holiday, but I have a close, Kevin Bacon-like degree of separation to him through a friend in town who knew him as a marketer before his fame as a modern interpreter of the Stoics, before he became another of the Silicon Valley whisperers.

Anyway, he has a pretty good book, “The Obstacle is the Way,” the title alone a koan sure to catch the attention of mighty warriors in tech and sports, including NFL coaches Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, who handed out copies.

The title comes from the Stoic classic, “Meditations,” by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Holiday does a nice job of reinterpreting the emperor’s lessons for modern times. Namely, the idea that obstacles themselves point the way to the solutions they block.

The Hellenistic philosophy does speak to me in, forgive me, a man-up sort of way. I didn’t realize it then, but Stoicism was how I weathered the marathons inherent in wildland firefighting and life generally with a minimum of complaint. The best test of these principles came during endless shifts punching fire line.

But that’s not the whole deal. It’s not all quit whining and grind on. The philosophy, at least in Holiday’s view, includes sharing good belly laughs. He mentions one Stoic, Chrysippus, who really did die laughing, as the story goes.

Here’s Holiday’s list:

“Divide and Conquer.” I’m not sure this is so well titled. He means recognizing what you can control from what you can’t.

“Dissect the Source.” We almost always stoke our fear of a calamity higher than the actual event happening. “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” — Seneca.

“Use Cognitive Distancing.” If he had run this list by me, I would have cut this line. Too close to the previous one. He means changing the lens you are seeing through.

“Practice the Worst Case Scenario.” Oh great, right after suggesting rose-colored glasses, I’m supposed to imagine the worst? Why, yes. Then plan for what you would do.

“Get Active.” Move your body! So simple. You might be surprised at how much works out just doing that.

“Find a Hobby.” Maybe the greatest discovery of my later life, after the kids left for college. I call it your meditative art, as important as love, spirit, exercise, your life’s work, and bound up with the rest in your higher purpose. I might put more on this than Holiday does. I think he just means diversion.

“Start Journaling.” That is to say, write. A journal works. You can focus on you that way. I sub in a weekly column, along with a hobby novel. Less contemplation of the belly button, sure. But it might be the pure expression and the effort to articulate that matters here. Anyway, anything regular.

“Read a Book.” Amen! But I’m bookish. Television, Facebook and the like have little part in my life, unless the Lakers or the Broncos are on. Novels, though. I’m over the moon with, say, “The Overstory” and most recently “Homeland Elegies,” and definitely not above Clancy thrillers.

“Stop Caring What Other People Think.” A job requirement.

“Take a Cold Shower.” Forgetaboutit.

“Laughter is the Best Medicine.” The Laughing Buddha and the Dalai Lama come to mind. Simple fact: We think better after a good laugh.

“Meditate on Your Mortality.” OK, hard stop on the laughter. Say what? But there’s good logic to imagining how you might look back on today, while you can still make some adjustments. Now don’t you feel better?

There are worse lists. This one dropped well-timed one recent morning in my email, the classic good advice with an offer to join a course. Holiday is a marketer by trade, after all. Here’s his website if you are interested:

Dude didn’t pay me, just saying, and I am definitely not taking all his advice. No way. But it might work for you. Brrr.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299.


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