The 3 Day Stoic Holiday Challenge

Shane Trotter

Coach

Mansfield, Texas, United States

Strength and Conditioning, Kettlebells, Youth Development

“All that is real you can’t buy or steal.”

Matt Kearney

 

Comparable to most of human history, we have an inconceivable amount of stuff filling our lives with incomprehensible convenience. Your daily diet features a bouquet of extravagance scarcely imaginable. Tomatoes and strawberries in December! How is this possible? We have more, but we are not more. In fact, driven by this headlong quest for more, we’re less capable of ruling ourselves than ever. As obesity, depression, anxiety, suicide, and shootings all increase, perhaps we should confront our self-imposed powerlessness.

 

 

The Stoics had a concept called oikeiosis, roughly meaning, your natural orientation. We don’t fault a lion for killing a gazelle. It is her orientation. We don’t criticize the cow for eating all day. Other than humans, all species are driven purely by instinct. We, however, can transcend shallow impulse. We can decide that virtues are worth more than immediate gratification. If we don’t then what separates us from the gopher digging holes in your yard?

 

The 4 Noble Virtues

There are four noble virtues in stoicism: practical wisdom, morality, courage, and moderation. In light of the current state of American health, I’d like to explore moderation and how to create a regiment to promote being more this holiday season—more present, more loving, more appreciative, more connected, and of course, more healthy.

 

The holiday season is upon us and a great feast awaits. Friends and family will gather embracing tradition and melting stress away through celebration. It’s a truly beautiful thing. But, there is an ugly side. Our modern culture of extreme consumption often replaces and distracts from those moments of deeper connection.

 

As I presented in my recent piece on preventing seasonal weight gain, one of the stoic philosopher Seneca’s greatest works was a response to the extravagance characteristic of Rome’s December holiday season. Still, the decadence Seneca witnessed in 1st century Rome had nothing on us.

 

The reality is that the excess we see in December is only a small magnification of the excess that characterizes all of modern life. These same patterns leave millions physically limited, mentally lethargic, and emotionally anguished. Most of these masses will earnestly desire to break their impulsive dependency by making a change this next year.

 

But, having no understanding of the principles behind health, willpower, or the mind, they will fail. It is human nature to consume ravenously when there is more to consume. Working against instinct and a culture of impulse overload, they will lack the tools and resolve.

 

Take back control. Rather than immersing yourself in a month of consumption this December, I recommend taking some time to train your ability for self-mastery. Seneca recommended picking a few days of self-denial where you are “content with the scantiest and cheapest of fare, with coarse and rough dress. Let the bread be hard and grimy. Endure all this for three or four days at a time, sometimes for more.”

 

The Challenge

Specificity is power. We need to clarify and adapt this challenge for the modern world. Look at your calendar and pick three days where you can practice self-denial without significant disruption to your loved ones. If they want to join you, that’s cool, but I wouldn’t count on it.

 

Your three-day challenge must follow these rules:

 

 

  • Food: Eat at only two times per day. No salt, pepper, or spices. No condiments. No meat. No bread or processed foods. No canned or frozen foods. No fruit. You can use only fresh vegetables and lentils or barley.
  • Media: No smartphone use. No social media. No television or screen time at all. The only exception is using a computer for work. If it is a work day, you can check your work email up to two times. Acceptable entertainment options: board games, cards, books, ping-pong, pool, darts, campfire communion.
  • Spending: No purchases.
  • Transportation: Walk or bike any distances under 2 miles. If possible, plan and take public transportation.
  • Dress: Make it “coarse and rough”—whatever that means to you.
  • Sleep: 6 hours or less each night.
  • Meditate: 20 minutes each day.
  • Train: Each day complete: 50 supermans; 100 push-ups; 150 air squats; run 2 miles. All require no equipment. Split it up however you like.

 

As with any challenge, please do not skip the entire challenge because there are elements that aren’t feasible in your lifestyle or at your current level. It does not matter where you are, only what your trajectory is. Be realistic, plan, and commit.

 

Also, keep in mind that this is a training in resiliency. These practices aren’t all healthy. Furthermore, long-term success is not born of extreme denial. However, it does require an ability to define actions and persevere. In this way, this challenge is the best possible practice for a healthy lifestyle.

 

“… you will leap for joy when filled with a pennyworth of food, and you will understand that a man’s peace of mind does not depend upon Fortune.”

Seneca

 

Remove the Excess

When you remove the excess you often find what is real. You are living how millions have lived and continue to live while finding immense joy. In our age of materialism and artificiality, boundaries help us reconnect with humanity.

 

I highly recommend doing a 3-day challenge like this a few times a year. Seneca believed that by consistently interjecting periods of less, he’d be resilient to adversity and train a capacity for fulfillment and satisfaction in any circumstance. Now that’s a hell of a lot better than being mad at Aunt Sally for getting your sister a more expensive gift.

 

For more help training self-mastery, check out my Willpower and Resiliency Course.

 

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