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Perception, Action, Will: The Three Stoic Principles

These three stoic principles can help you make better decisions and ultimately live a better life.
Perception, Action, Will: The Three Stoic Principles
Photo by Fabian Mardi / Unsplash

While reading Ryan Holiday's book, The Daily Stoic, I came across these three principles and believe they can be very beneficial in helping anyone live a better life.

Let's dive in.

These three principles originated from a quote by Marcus Aurelius that goes,

“All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.”

Perception

Perception is important because it colors our view of life and is a precursor to action.

It's important to always realize we have control of our own perception of the things that happen to us. We are not a slave to what others think or say about us, but can in fact give our own meaning to the circumstances of our lives.

However, not only is it important to remember what's in our control regarding our perception, but also what is outside of our viewpoint.

Remember, oftentimes we may be blind to the very things that may improve our lives and therefore it's important to stay vigilant and ask ourselves what we may be missing about any situation.

For example, if someone cuts us off in traffic, there are two points of our perception that we have the power to change. The meaning of the act (i.e. maybe it was completely careless and accidental) and the motivating factors behind it (i.e. maybe there was something in the road they were swerving to miss).

It's important to always remember that we don't always have the full picture and, therefore, it's not always fair to make snap judgements.

Action

Action is the next step and is a response to our perception. Once we realized the most beneficial and honorable way to view a situation we can begin to take action.

Taking action begins by asking the question, what can I do in response to this circumstance to create the highest possible common good for myself and others?

For instance, in the scenario where the driver cuts us off, even if it was personal, does it really create a better situation if we drive up beside him and flip him off? There's certainly an argument for that action, although it's pretty difficult to justify.

Instead, think of our actions as tools to create better situations in our lives. Ask yourself, what action will put me and those around me in a better state or circumstance than we are currently in.

Will

With the understanding of how to control our perceptions and the realization that our actions are tools, what element does will play in these three stoic principles?

Will has to do with the aftermath. We need to understand the concept of the dichotomy of control, another stoic principle.

The dichotomy of control essentially divides circumstances into two categories; things in our control and things outside of our control.

If we've shifted our perception and chosen our actions carefully, things can still go wrong. But we must have the willpower to understand that we don't always have control over external results.

If we can try our best in any situation knowing that things may still go wrong then we truly have mastered the power of will.

Call To Action

Try using these three principles the next time you're faced with a situation that upsets you or makes you feel powerless. Remember that these all take practice and time to master, but hopefully, if you keep them in mind you can become better at making decisions in the future.

If you find stoicism interesting and enjoy these simple frameworks for living better, I've also written an article on the four virtues of stoicism.

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