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How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

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The life-changing principles of Stoicism taught through the story of its most famous proponent.

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was the final famous Stoic philosopher of the ancient world. The Meditations, his personal journal, survives to this day as one of the most loved self-help and spiritual classics of all time. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, cognitive psychotherapist Donald Robertson weaves the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius together seamlessly to provide a compelling modern-day guide to the Stoic wisdom followed by countless individuals throughout the centuries as a path to achieving greater fulfillment and emotional resilience.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor takes readers on a transformative journey along with Marcus, following his progress from a young noble at the court of Hadrian—taken under the wing of some of the finest philosophers of his day—through to his reign as emperor of Rome at the height of its power. Robertson shows how Marcus used philosophical doctrines and therapeutic practices to build emotional resilience and endure tremendous adversity, and guides readers through applying the same methods to their own lives.

Combining remarkable stories from Marcus’s life with insights from modern psychology and the enduring wisdom of his philosophy, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor puts a human face on Stoicism and offers a timeless and essential guide to handling the ethical and psychological challenges we face today.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published April 1, 2019

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About the author

Donald J. Robertson

11 books785 followers
Author of books on philosophy and psychotherapy, including Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, and the graphic novel Verissimus. I'm a philosopher and psychotherapist with a special interest in Stoicism and CBT. I was born in Scotland, but now live in Canada and Greece.

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Profile Image for Ryan Boissonneault.
185 reviews2,016 followers
October 17, 2022
Stoicism is a practical philosophy that emphasizes rationality and virtue as the only true goods. Unlike other religious or spiritual practices, Stoicism does not require that you abandon reason or strain your grip on reality; rather, it provides an ethical orientation to life that is fully consistent with our nature as rational, social beings.

Stoicism therefore embraces the original Greek conception of philosophy as a way of life, a subject matter to be practiced rather than simply studied. Far removed from the logical hair splitting of academic philosophy, Stoicism is about living well, with an emphasis on ethics and the attainment of true contentment and excellence of character.

That means that mastering the art of Stoicism is no easy task; it requires putting theory into practice and patiently developing appropriate habits of mind that cannot come from simply reading a book, memorizing a few principles, and moving on. This is why, to truly master Stoicism, it helps to have a mentor, not in the sense of an all-knowing guru who will tell you exactly how to think and act, but in the sense of having someone with admirable character traits to emulate.

This is what makes How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson an ideal introduction to the practice of Stoicism. It combines the theory of Stoicism—corroborated by the latest therapeutic techniques of modern psychology—with the biographical details of a Stoic master worth emulating, Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus relied on mentors himself; in fact, in Book 1 of Meditations, Marcus provides a list of his mentors and their associated character traits that he would use to model his own behavior. Marcus was greatly influenced by Socrates, Seneca, Epictetus, and his own personal philosophy tutors. Marcus would often contemplate how these Stoic masters would themselves handle certain situations while also benefiting from personal instruction.

While having a mentor is important, most of us do not personally know a Stoic master who is available 24/7 to critique our attitudes and behavior. But there’s another option, one that Marcus used himself after his most valued personal mentor, Junius Rusticus, passed away. Marcus would imagine that his mentor, or a group of mentors he respected, were constantly watching over his actions, and that he would need to explain his actions to a tribunal of philosophers at the end of each day.

This allowed Marcus to continue to benefit from the personal instruction of Rusticus, even after Rusticus’s death, if only in his imagination. And it is the same technique the reader can use to benefit from the personal instruction of Marcus Aurelius. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor allows the reader to learn more about the life and thought of Marcus Aurelius for the purpose of establishing an imagined mentorship in the manner practiced by the great Stoics. This puts a face to the philosophy and brings the ideas to life, while providing a Stoic ideal for the reader to strive for.

Marcus, of course, was not only a Stoic philosopher; he was also a leader, the emperor of Rome. If anyone deserves the title of Plato’s “philosopher king,” it’s Marcus Aurelius, and if any Stoic is truly worth emulating, it’s also probably him.

So what can Marcus teach us? Since Marcus modeled his behavior according to a hypothetical Stoic ideal, we can all use Marcus’s own character traits as a model for our own character development. In that respect, what follows is a brief summary of the character traits and habits of mind of Marcus Aurelius that we would all benefit from emulating.

To begin with, the modern idea that we are all slaves to our passions, or that reason is slave to emotion, is patently false. If it were true, we would constantly indulge our appetites, sacrificing our health and never saving or planning for the future. We can all clearly make decisions that sacrifice immediate gratification for future benefits.

Reason, therefore, is of primary importance for the Stoic, what they called our “ruling faculty.” As Robertson wrote:

“Stoics argued that humans are first and foremost thinking creatures, capable of exercising reason. Although we share many instincts with other animals, our ability to think rationally is what makes us human….It allows us to evaluate our thoughts, feelings, and urges and to decide if they are good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.”

The use of reason is the only way to modify unhealthy habits, which are usually the result of blindly following our emotions. Our most natural reactions are often the most harmful. Marcus, for example, had to battle with severe outbursts of anger when he was younger. However, despite being predisposed psychologically to bouts of anger, Marcus trained himself to act more reasonably and calmly, even in the face of betrayal by his general Gaius Avidius Cassius, who declared himself emperor and started a civil war. Marcus reminded himself that people act according to what they think is right, and if they act dishonorably, they do so in error and therefore deserve our sympathy rather than our contempt.

That Marcus didn’t lose his cool doesn’t mean that he did nothing; he calmly and efficiently mobilized his forces and ultimately was victorious against Cassius. But he did so without undue emotional distress. Marcus reminded himself that without misfortune and difficulty, there is no opportunity to practice virtue. As Marcus wrote in Meditations, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Marcus replaced a negative emotion, anger, with sympathy, understanding, and action.

Marcus did not have an easy life: out of 13 children, he lived to see 8 of them die; he suffered from ulcers and other chronic physical ailments; he experienced constant warfare and political instability; and he dealt with the strain and stress of managing an empire. Yet he found the courage to confront these challenges effectively and without complaint, because he realized all events, whether considered good or bad, were simply opportunities to practice virtue and develop character. Marcus no doubt would have preferred health, wealth, and peace, and did what he could to attain them, but he did not waste time in grief or anxiety for things not within his direct control, nor did he waste time in pursuit of material objects or fleeting pleasures at the expense of his philosophical development.

Marcus therefore employed reason and wisdom to display courage, moderation, and emotional mastery. When a difficulty arose, he would simply say, calmly and dispassionately, “what next?” Marcus understood the difference between events and judgements, and how judgments are ultimately the cause of suffering. As Marcus said, “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

At this point, there are two common but unfounded criticisms of Stoicism that I want to address. The first is that Stoics are unemotional. This is not true, for the simple reason that it’s not possible. You can’t eliminate emotions, you can only control them and replace initial negative emotions with positive ones, like Marcus did by managing his bouts of anger and replacing them with deep sympathy even for his enemies. Stoics, far from being unemotional, experience a profound sense of joy by living according to reason and wisdom and in helping others achieve the same.

The second misconception is that Stoicism makes one apathetic to public life and civic responsibility. Marcus, being the emperor of Rome and all, should make it obvious how wrong this is. But there’s a deeper explanation for why this is incorrect. Robertson explains this best:

“In addition to believing that humans are essentially thinking creatures capable of reason, the Stoics also believed that human nature is inherently social. They started from the premise that under normal conditions we typically have a bond of “natural affection” toward our children. (If we didn’t, as we know, our offspring would be less likely to survive and pass on our genes.) This bond of natural affection also tends to extend to other loved ones, such as spouses, parents, siblings, and close friends. The Stoics believed that as we mature in wisdom we increasingly identify with our own capacity for reason, but we also begin to identify with others insofar as they’re capable of reason. In other words, the wise man extends moral consideration to all rational creatures and views them, in a sense, as his brothers and sisters. That’s why the Stoics described their ideal as cosmopolitanism, or being ‘citizens of the universe’—a phrase attributed both to Socrates and Diogenes the Cynic.”

As Robertson further notes, the concepts of justice, kindness, fairness, and ethical cosmopolitanism are found throughout the Meditations. Marcus, despite being a Stoic, displays a rich emotional life full of contemplation, action, joy, contentment, justice, kindness, and civic responsibility.

From all of this we get a good idea of how Marcus would think and act in various situations, and this provides a great template by which we can develop our own character in accordance with the Stoic ideal. For those truly interested in mastering Stoicism, it’s helpful to ask yourself, could you justify your actions to Marcus at the end of each day. The next time you’re overwhelmed by anger or anxiety, work to replace your negative emotions with positive ones. The next time you face a crisis or difficult situation, ask yourself which virtue this allows you to practice. Over time, and with dedication, you might come to find, as Marcus certainly did, that life and all its chaos is nothing more than the opportunity to practice virtue, guided by the ideals of reason, wisdom, justice, and kindness.
Profile Image for Susan.
580 reviews18 followers
March 8, 2022
I was lucky to get a free copy via NetGalley for my true and honest opinion.

Donald Robertson, a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist, looks at how the writing in the mediations can be seen as a premodern version of the psychological strategy.

Specifically, he looks at how stoic philosophy provided Marcus Aurelius as a coping strategy for his role as the emperor. Marcus Aurelius is one of the few good Roman emperors, especially compared to Caligula or Nero. The author looks at the links between therapy and stoic wisdom.

Stoicism helped Aurelius in coping with his feelings of grief or fear. Aurelius would have been exposed to stoic ideas through people like Arrian of Nicomedia, close to his adoptive grandfather. He looks at why people till this day find comfort in his writing. After all, this is an emperor ruling 1853 years ago, yet we are drawn to his writing, and the reason could be for quotes such as “You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Stoicism is about changing how you think and control your emotions, and this is what Robertson says is a premodern concept of the therapy strategy.

In my opinion, Robertson can present complex ideas in an easy to read manner. In addition, Robertson provided the research is accessible if you wanted to do further investigation on your own. Overall, I liked it.

Profile Image for 8stitches 9lives.
2,793 reviews1,627 followers
April 3, 2019
It seems stoicism has been enjoying a resurgence of late and being intrigued by different schools of philosophical thought and educating myself on each of them I simply couldn't resist nabbing a copy of this. The ideas central to stoicism are woven into the biographical account of one of the most important writers and Stoic philosophers of his time. What I found most impressive about the book was its accessibility - even those who know little about philosophy, in general, should be able to read and understand this text without issue. We in Britain tend to be labelled as the most likely to subscribe to stoicism when it comes to the continent of Europe so we should all be interested in the subject.

With the current state of the world, this is an interesting and sensible outlook that many people are adopting. Discussing the core concepts of stoicism alongside cognitive behavioural therapy is a thought-provoking approach and is exceptionally well written and researched, it appears. Often philosophy books can alienate those who want to educate themselves on these ideas but Mr Robertson keeps it down to earth and concise. This is a book that has the potential to be life-changing and the comparison made between stoic wisdom and CBT absolutely fascinated me. The helpful hints of how to incorporate stoicism into your day to day life are a great way to move towards emotional resilience and hopefully a happier and more fulfilled life.

Many thanks to St Martin's Press for an ARC.
Profile Image for Brady.
71 reviews4 followers
October 30, 2020
I had never read a “modern Stoic” book before this and considered them superfluous cash-ins to an already vastly oversaturated “Stoic self-help” genre. The original three big Roman Stoics, who I had read extensively (Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca), were all I or anyone should read or need at all. I was wrong about this book though and it now sits side by side my copy or Marcus’s Meditations, Epictetus’ Discourses, and Seneca’s Letters on my shelf, aka a very nice place to be.

As I mentioned above, I don’t read self-help books but the title and cover of this one caught my eye so I gave it a go. I idolize Marcus Aurelius and was interested in reading a book focusing on him and his life from the perspective of his life philosophy, being Stoicism. I was not disappointed and feel like I came away from this book not only with a much improved understanding of the history and events of his life and trials he went through (the main reason I picked it up), but also was pleasantly surprised by how great this book does function as a guide on how to apply Stoicism as a way of living.

It definitely cannot replace the Meditations, or Discourses, or Letters, nor does it try to, but instead inspires you to follow the principles because of how much they helped Marcus throughout his life, thus proving they work if you in turn work at them.

It also helps that Donald Robertson is an excellent author and story-teller. His transitions between telling the history and moving in and out of how it applies to philosophy work really well.
Profile Image for Malum.
2,228 reviews127 followers
June 23, 2020
This book couldn't decide if it wanted to be a history book, a self-help book, or a psychology primer, and so failed at all three. Also, the Stoicism advice just boiled down to "if you find yourself getting upset at something, stop it".
Profile Image for Julie Tedjeske Crane.
92 reviews46 followers
May 12, 2019
This book takes a historical account of the life of Marcus Aurelius as well as passages from Aurelius' The Meditations and shows how to apply the lessons learned from these sources in a modern context, using a framework that is largely derived from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). The author is trained in both Stoic philosophy and CBT, which are closely related. As the author notes in the introduction, Aaron Beck (one of the founders of CBT) has acknowledged that "[t]he philosophical origins of cognitive therapy can be traced back to the Stoic philosophers." (p.9)

Each chapter has a central theme that is illustrated using examples from Aurelius' life. Such themes include anger management, dealing with chronic pain, and changing bad habits. After the initial historical account, most chapters then move into a practical "how-to" sort of discussion that includes a lot of numbered lists. Many chapters conclude with a summary of the key points that the author intended for the reader to takeaway from the chapter. I appreciated this strong organizational structure.

A lot of themes are repeated throughout the book. For example, The Meditations (which is a personal diary of sorts) starts with a list of people whom Aurelius admired, with Aurelius acknowledging gratitude for what he had learned from each listed individual. The author suggests that readers can use the same sort of technique--i.e., imagine what someone you admire would do in a particular situation and try to model your behavior accordingly.

Another example would be the idea that cognition--rather than emotions--can drive behavior. Although an initial emotional reaction to a situation is often involuntary, generally at some point the person has the ability to step back and make a decision as to whether feeding that initial emotional reaction is healthy or not. In other words, even if rational thought does not drive one's immediate response, after that immediate reaction it is often possible to create a space for cognition to drive emotion rather than the other way around.

A final example would be the calm acceptance of the fact that usually all one can control is his or her best efforts; one cannot entirely control the actual outcome of most things in life. The author describes this attitude as the "stoic reserve clause," which is often phrased as a caveat such as "fate permitting" or "God willing."

I already knew some of the basic aspects of Marcus Aurelius' life, but I learned more detail from reading this book. I also knew that there was a connection between Stoic philosophy and CBT, but this book explained that connection in an easy-to-understand manner. Overall, I highly recommend this book.
1 review
April 5, 2019
It's a sort of mashup between history, historical fiction, self-help and philosophy manual. That may sound funny, but it works! and the different genre like aspects are blended seamlessly, artfully, and beautifully. Some first person narratives are quite poignant (i.e. yeah, I cried!).

Mr. Robertson stays as close to the history (as we know it) as possible, and even has a few unique ideas about what could have been happening (especially between the ears) which may have escaped prior historians, who may not have been as conversant with Stoicism as a philosophy. Also, the history is exciting! And, Donald does it justice with his storytelling ability.

Where the author excels however is bringing his main source, the perennial work (The Meditations) into the 21st century, having a strong clinical background in evidence-based Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Through the lens of what is robust in today's psychological sciences, we can see some of the things these old Stoics may have (most likely have) been actually doing in order to cope with crushing loss and enduring physical and mental hardships. People of the past were historically tougher than we are right now, even a few generations ago. Times in the ancient world were positively brutal, where plagues and holocausts were the rule rather than the exception, and these Stoics were considered tough even by the standards of those days.

Stoicism is witnessing a resurgence at the moment, and at a time when it's very much needed.
After reading this book I look at the Meditations in a whole new way, as well as the limits of what can be accomplished by any of us as human beings, for ourselves, and for our society.
Profile Image for Annie.
93 reviews
June 21, 2021

I think this book will be one of the handful that will stay with me. It accomplishes a lot: it is a useful companion to other books on Stoic philosophy because it contextualises Marcus Aurelius' life and his Stoic practice; it bridges cognitive behavioural therapy with Stoic principles; and it teaches the reader how they might incorporate these techniques in their own life. I took so many notes that I felt like I was almost transcribing it, and yet when I finished reading, I wanted to start over because I wanted to study it again. I think readers who have at least a basic understanding of Stoicism will benefit the most from this book, but I recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning about a practical approach to cultivating psychological endurance and focusing your perspective on what matters and what is within your control.
Profile Image for Jonathan Donihue.
131 reviews10 followers
August 13, 2019
Take an exposition of Stoic philosophy, add some psychotherapeutic practices, some mindfulness meditation techniques, and bundle it all up with a biography of one of the greatest emperors ever to oversee Rome and this is the book you'll get.

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor is a very well written compilation of philosophy, spiritual practice, and biography. I listened to this one as a library audiobook. The narration was good but there is so much richness and depth here that I decided I'm going to purchase the print version to refer back to.

Thank you Mr Robertson! I'll be looking for more of your work.
Profile Image for Rosemary Ward.
Author 1 book5 followers
April 24, 2019
Do not act as if you will live 10,000 years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good

I really didn't want this book to end - and it was work ; not a beach read. The wisdom that poured from each chapter had a hypnotic effect, which felt like so much relief from life's storms. I think it actually lowered my blood pressure every time I picked it up and read.

Donald Robertson took an old topic and breathed new life into it creating a truly unique brew - kind of a modern-day antidote to confusion and anxiety. And I'm hooked on the topic of Stoic philosophy.

One snapshot: An emperor is facing assaults from barbarian tribes (as well as unrest among his own!) but he stops to consider the most virtuous course and he takes measured steps to dispel feelings of revenge or anger before considering his actions -- wow, that is humbling.

The author segues from history, to Stoic philosophy, to modern cognitive behavior therapy with grace and art. The sensible and peaceful mind that Marcus Aurelius cultivated was revealed and then recast into the 21st century so that we can learn to harness the power of Stoic thinking, too.

I especially enjoyed learning about the people who had the greatest influence on Marcus Aurelius. Epictetus is up next on my to-read list!

I loved this book and know I will return to it often.

Failure to observe what is in the mind of another has seldom made a man unhappy; but those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.
Profile Image for Youi.
4 reviews
August 14, 2019
The last chapter was one of the most moving chapters I've read in a while. Marcus Aurelius. What a man.
Profile Image for Noah Goats.
Author 8 books21 followers
January 17, 2020
I've noticed that over the past few years books about Stoicism have really been proliferating. As traditional religion seems to ebb, I think people are looking for guidance to morality and the good life, and a surprising number of them are finding it in an ancient philosophy that was highly popular in classical Rome. The Stoics give modern people a moral code that doesn't look too different from the one they grew up with, but it bases its ethics on reason rather than revelation and dogma.

The only problem with the Stoics is that when they are taken in their raw form, they can be unacceptably bitter to modern tastes. In How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, Donald Robertson sugars the pill a little, making it digestible. He uses the teachings of Marcus Aurelius and other stoic philosophers as a foundation, and then builds a structure of modern techniques for finding peace and self-improvement on top of it.

I think Marcus and the rest of the Stoics would have approved of this. They were always the most practical school of philosophers, and their works actually read a lot like self help books. The practice of updating Stoicism was already an ancient one when Marcus was writing his Meditations, and in this book Robertson successfully adds to this long tradition.
Profile Image for Dario Andrade.
530 reviews17 followers
August 22, 2021
Marcus Aurelius was one of the “Big Three” roman stoics philosophers. These days we’re seeing a sort of revival of the Stoic School. Like others philosophical schools from ancient times, it emphasizes the practice of philosophy. It’s, more than anything else, a way to have a better life, to be a better person.
Using the life of Marcus Aurelius, Robertson – a professional psychologist – try to show how we can surpass emotional obstacles that hurt us.
Such psychological obstacles, it is important to say, are created by our minds. Stoicism, as a rational analysis, has many techniques that can put things in a different and more modest perspective. I mean that things in life are much less important than we think. Besides, we can only control ourselves or, more precisely, we can only control our minds.
It’s an interesting book and it’s useful for anyone who trying to learn more stoicism and the techniques for those who is trying to have a more sane life.
It's not an easy road, but one that can be very satisfying.
Profile Image for Steve Eubank.
5 reviews1 follower
April 9, 2019
The subtitle is ironic & an important clarification as certainly not every Roman emperor’s thought process is worth emulating; indeed, Marcus Aurelius is the exception because he “viewed himself as a Stoic 1st & an emperor 2nd.” This book is particularly instructive when read in conjunction with Massimo Pigliucci’s 2017 “How to Be a Stoic,” which is an imaginary dialogue between a modern-day student & the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. Marcus Aurelius was most influenced by Epictetus. Although Marcus & Epictetus never met, Epictetus’ student Arrian had compiled his teachings as the “Discourses” & “Handbook” & Marcus was instructed in Stoicism from these works. In contrast, Marcus did not write what ended up being his contribution to philosophy, the “Meditations” in order to teach anyone; it was more akin to a journal of personal thoughts written in his tent at night as he fought barbarian tribes on the fringes of the empire. So rather than a modern dialogue with a classical philosopher like “How to Be a Stoic,” “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor” is more of a biographical account of a great person’s development through Stoic reflection & how such a technique is applied today via Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & other methods. The last chapter breaks from biography to take the reader through a guided Stoic meditation process that Marcus might’ve used if he’d lived in modern times. Between “How to Be a Stoic” & “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor” one learns the principles of Stoicism, their relevance today, & how to incorporate them into a meaningful & resilient approach to life.
Profile Image for Midori.
65 reviews11 followers
May 31, 2020
This book is a page-turner! However, the knowledge and practical advice behind it is so profound that it should be reread over and over again. After reading this book, I realize one thing that, all the wise men/women share the same wisdom. The truth always prevails and there is only one truth. Human beings are naturally irrational in so many ways and we are born that way (read Thinking, Fast, and Slow to know why), by learning to reason well about life and live rationally, we can achieve the virtue of wisdom and reach a deeper and more lasting sense of fulfillment (a higher level of happiness). How to do it? This book got all the answers for you.

The author is someone who reads so much and knows these Stoic Philosophers so well that if you read this book, you gain knowledge of 20 plus years of research or practicing Stoicism. I can not recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Jakub Jahic.
7 reviews3 followers
April 5, 2021
This book made me more wary about the right virtues I want to follow in my life. It provided me with numerous techniques which can prevent me from being angry or help me conquer my desires. It made me think more rationally about events but mainly about people whom I don't agree with. I am not going to think less of them (I hope), but rather I will try to know their intentions and life better.

Every chapter at first describes some part of Marcus's life and then the chapter continues with lessons from Stoicism. Every lesson teaches us something different and valuable for our lives.
It amazes me how wise the Stoics were.

Little bit about each chapter (except the last one):

In the first chapter you will learn about the general idea of Stoicism (philosophy) and how does it differ from stoicism (mental trait of toughness).

My favorite quote from the first chapter:
"Reason allows us to step back and question whether what we desire is actually going to be good for us or not. Wisdom allows us to judge the value of external things."

Next chapter teaches us about the five virtues of speech. Also about how virtues are the most important things for Stoics.

Techniques like cognitive distancing and decatastrophizing are first mentioned.

This chapter also contains my favorite quote from the entire book:
"It's not things that upsets us but our judgment about things" (Epictetus)

How to follow your values. Have an mentor, who can be even imagined. This chapter describes very helpful routines:
- Morning meditation - Ask yourself two questions (along with other things mentioned):
- What would the consequences be if you acted as a slave to your passions?
- How would your day differ if you acted more rationally, exhibiting wisdom and self-discipline
- Evening meditation - Review how things actually went. What would your mentor say?

This chapter also contains powerful exercises which can help reflect your values, desires and admirations.

How to conquer desire. Difference between external pleasure and deeper sense of joy which comes from achieving your fundamental goals in life and experiencing fulfillment.

The stoics didn't view joy as end of life, that would be wisdom. But they saw joy as by-product of if, so they believed that pursuit it directly might lead to wrong path.

Joy in the Stoics sense is active rather than passive, it comes from virtuous quality of our own good deeds, the things we do, whereas the bodily pleasures arise from experiences that happen to us, even as consequences of actions like (eating, having sex)

How to tolerate pain. Complaining about our problems make things worse. Don't tell yourself: I can't cope anymore! Rather look at things more objectively and rationally.

This chapter describes 7 strategies of baring with pain.

How to relinquish fear. Marcus's internal goal is to live with virtue, particularly wisdom and justice, but his external aim is the common welfare of mankind. It's your intentions that count, both morally and psychologically.

The technique of exposing yourself to stressful situations repeatedly in small doses so that you build up a more general resistance to emotional disturbance is known in behavioral psychology as "stress inoculation"

The Stoics defined fear as the expectation that something bad is going to happen. Inoculating ourselves against stress and anxiety through the Stoic premeditation of adversity is one of the most useful techniques for building general emotional resilience.

Use moments of leisure to prepare yourself to remain calm in the face of adversity.

If something bad happens, ask yourself "What next?" a few times, it can move your focus past the most distressing part of the scene and take away its catastrophic appearance. I.e what would happen after losing your job? It might be tough for a while but eventually you would find something else and your life would move on.

Another simple and powerful technique is to ask yourself how you would feel about the situation that worries you in then or twenty years time, looking back on it from the future.

How to conquer anger. Stoics believed that anger is a form of desire. A desire for revenge on one who seems to have done an injustice inappropriately.

This chapter describes 7 antidotes for anger.

When others hate, blame or slander you, you should imagine looking into their soul and understanding what king of people they really are. The more you understand them, the more their hostility toward you will seem misguided and powerless to offend you.

Analyze their character: what kind of people do they want to please, for what purpose and through what kind of actions? What are their guiding principles in life, what do the y busy themselves doing, how do they spend their time? If you can picture this, eventually it will seem absurd to you that their blame or praise ever carried any real authority.

Remembering that other people are human, and flawed can help you to receive criticism (or praise) from them in a more balanced and less emotional way.

You can never be certain of other peoples motives. Without knowing someones intentions we can never really be sure they're doing wrong.

It's necessary to learn a great many things about another person before we can deliver a firm opinion concerning their personality and motives.

The main antidote to anger for Marcus is the Stoic virtue of kindness, which along with fairness makes up the cardinal social virtue of justice. Kindness is essentially goodwill toward others and the desire to help them.

For Stoics, kindness first means educating others or wishing they would become wise, free from vice and passion. It's a desire to turn enemies into friends, fate permitting.

Marcus's example of kindness actually entails educating the other person in two of the most important strategies he mentioned earlier:

1. Anger does more harm to us than to the person with whom we are angry.
2. Humans are essentially social creatures, Nature didn't intend us to fight but to help each other.
November 17, 2020
জন্মসূত্রে সম্রাট হননি মার্কাস ওরেলিয়াস। সম্রাট হ্যাড্রিয়ানের কোনো বংশধর ছিল না। তাই তিনি মার্কাস ওরেলিয়াসকে পোষ্যপুত্র হিসেবে গ্রহণ করেছিলেন। অত্যাচারী হ্যাড্রিয়ানের এই পালকপুত্র শ্রেষ্ঠ পাঁচ রোমান সম্রাটদের একজন। স্টোয়িক দর্শনের অত্যতম প্রবক্তা ও চর্চাকারী মার্কাস ওরেলিয়াসের জীবন ও স্টোয়িক দর্শনের ব্যাবহারিক চর্চা কীভাবে এই সম্রাটকে প্রভাবিত করেছিল তা নিয়েই লিখেছেন ডোনাল্ড জে রবার্টসন।

ভালো মানুষের কেমন হওয়া উচিত তা নিয়ে আলাপ দরকার নেই। বরং নিজে প্রকৃত ভালো মানুষ হয়ে দেখাও - এমনটাই বলতেন মার্কাস ওরেলিয়াস। শুধু বলতেন বললে কম বলা হবে। তিনি আমৃত্যু এই বিশ্বাসের অনুশীলন করে গেছেন।

নিজের কোনো সমালোচনাকারীকে দণ্ড দেননি। রুদ্ধ করেননি সম্রাটের দোষ-ত্রুটি অন্বেষণকারীকে। এমন নজির তৎকালীন সময় তো বটেই পরবর্তীতে কালেও বিরল।

যে কোনো ঘটনাকে আপনি কীভাবে দেখছেন তা ঠিক করে দেবে কেমন অনুভূতি আপনার হবে। কেউ আপনাকে ঘৃণা করে। বেশ উত্তম! তাঁর ঘৃণা করার নিশ্চয়ই কোনো কারণ আছে৷ তা বোঝার চেষ্টা করুন। ভুল ধারণা থাকলে তা খণ্ডন করুন। যদি তা না পারেন তবে নীরব থাকুন। তার অনুভূতি যেন আপনার মনের শান্তিকে নষ্ট না করে।

স্টোয়িক দর্শনে বিচারবোধ সবচেয়ে গুরুত্বপূর্ণ। নিরপেক্ষ ও নির্মোহ হয়ে ভাববার ক্ষমতা থাকলে আপনিও হতে পারবেন একজন স্টোয়িক। কেউ একজন খুব কষ্ট দিয়েছে তাই তাকে খুন করতে চাইছেন আপনি কিংবা ভীষণ কাচ্চি খেতে মন চাইছে। কিন্তু তা স্বাস্থ্যের জন্য ভালো হবে না। আচ্ছা, এমন পরিস্থিতিতে সক্রেটিস কিংবা জেনো কী সিদ্ধান্ত নিতেন? তারাও কী খুন করতেন বা কাচ্চির দোকানে ছুটতেন? নিজেকে প্রশ্ন করা শিখুন।

স্টোয়���ক দর্শনকে চমৎকার ও বাস্তবসম্মতভাবে ব্যাখা করেছেন লেখক।এই ব্যাখা-বিশ্লেষণের ভিত্তিমূল মার্কাস ওরেলিয়াসের জীবন।

যারা মার্কাস ওরেলিয়াসের 'মেডিটেশনস' পড়েছেন, তাদের এই বই খানিকটা নিষ্প্রভ লাগতে পারে। আশা করি, বাকিদের কাছে ভালো লাগবে। তবে রবার্টসনের লেখায় কিঞ্চিৎ একঘেয়েমি লক্ষণীয়।
Profile Image for Brandon.
74 reviews14 followers
March 8, 2021
Go to the rising sun for I am already setting - Marcus Aurelius

Stoic philosophy is arguably one of the best teachings in terms of how to conduct ones mind, behaviour and over all well being in our day to day lives and Donald Robertson’s book is a great introduction into that field of teachings.

How to think like a Roman emperor breaks downs Aurelius life in different chapters each chapter reflects and pinpoints how Marcus was challenged emotionally and physically during his reign as emperor. It brings in the stoic teachings and shows the reader how Marcus saw and used these methods to overcome some very hard moments in his life but also giving the reader the ability to understand and use it as well in their day to day struggles.

I also very much enjoyed how this played out as a history book from Marcus earlier years to his final moments he’s one of my favourite Roman emperors so it was a nice added touch!

Robertson writes a very well structured book into the world of stoic philosophy and Aurelius reign as emperor though it’s a rather short read it’s a great book and one I definitely recommend!
Profile Image for Sverre.
38 reviews9 followers
August 13, 2021
Robertson expertly shows how the ancient stoicism of Marcus Aurelius is applicable to modern life. The tenets of stoicism that Aurelius adhered to share many similarities to mindfulness and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which makes it so timeless. Being fond of The Meditations, I found myself just as invested in the history of Aurelius' life as his applied wisdom, which Robertson so expertly presents.

The audiobook, which is narrated by the author, is also very meditative (no pun intended).

Profile Image for Йордан Цалов.
1 review11 followers
August 5, 2019
I was amazed with the depth and regard to accuracy of the book. Many have written on the positive aspects of the book I want to stress on what distinguishes it from the majority of recent "Modern Stoicism" literature.

1. Most new Stoicism books tend to be quasi-historic at best and pseudohistoric at worst, presenting dubious interpretation of selective facts only to suit their personal understanding of Stoicism. Since Donald Robertson was a psychotherapist I was genuinely worried that this is going to be the case here and in the end was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research and respect for the historical approach. The book has a perspective, but is written in an intelligent and accurate manner.

2. Most new Stoicism books try in a perfidious fashion to 'modernise' Stoicism - presenting it as some sort of a 'Western yoga class' - which is not only wrong, but in the end makes a really unpersuasive argument for being a modern Stoic (why do the copy, do the original yoga).

Of course, one of the reasons for this approach is the complexity of the subject - how otherwise to present Stoicism and the contemporary behaviour therapy findings - without indulging the reader into a 3-year Bachelor course in Ancient Philosophy & History, Psychology and Logic?

Then, there is the problem of 'New Stoicism' (as presented by Lawrence C. Becker) and the teachings of the ancients. All recent books, including this one, draw on Beckers attempt to present Stoicism without the metaphysical and psychological assumptions that modern philosophy and science have abandoned. But if you are going to do this you should not deceive the reader by presenting modern teachings as ancient viewpoints or just abandoning the cosmological aspects for 'simplification'.

This book is unique in its ability to present a gripping narrative without the need of such simplifications. I should note, that anyone interested in the religious and metaphysical believes in Antiquity would need to look elsewhere. However this book does not obscure the subject and the reader is not led to believe that Marcus Aurelius was taught by some yogi masters with togas or that Classic mythology was not the lens through which the ancients view the world.

3. Finally, there is the issue of the behaviour therapy presented in the book. I do not have the background to pass substantive judgements, but it would be a rare thing for a modern reader not to recognise pop-psychology and the "believe in yourself, you social animal" messaging. This book is nothing of the sort.

In the end, it presents a comprehensive, well studied and enjoyable introduction into the ancient art and its modern reinvigoration.
Profile Image for Kelli.
226 reviews
March 13, 2021
Loved this book! I didn’t realize that Stoicism in large part is the birthplace of modern cognitive therapy. It’s amazing and humbling for me to realize that these great thinkers and philosophers of the past were teaching principles of how to live a good life and how to deal with injustice, anger, and pain in ways that most modern therapists are using today. We often assume we are more advanced in our thinking than those of the past, but the more I read of the philosophies of the past the more I realize we are still asking the same questions and are still largely coming up with the same answers. This book personally resonated with me as I’m always in search of wisdom. I’ve often said if I don’t learn from the experiences of this life, my life will have been in vain. I love reading of philosophers who like me were asking the questions, what makes a good life? What are the greatest virtues and how can I attain them? What are strategies I can use to overcome my human weaknesses? How can I live with more compassion and empathy? Little did I know years ago just how much Stoic philosophies reside within me. Life experience and lessons have led me to these philosophies before fully knowing of their existence. This is a fantastic book for anyone, especially those who crave wisdom and desire concrete life skills and tactics that lead to living a meaningful life of personal growth.
Profile Image for Nguyễn Hùng  Tuấn.
24 reviews16 followers
December 7, 2021
This book is like a meditation session, figuratively and literally. On one hand, it really refers back to Meditations (a series of personal thoughts of Marcus Aurelius), which I gave up a third of the way. This time, with Robertson's amazing narrative and explanation, Meditations is so much more fathomable.

On the other hand, it tells the stories of Marcus dealing with uncertainty, anxiety, anger, pain, and death in life, and derives lessons for me as a reader. I find the stories easy to follow, understand and relate to, and I particularly like the fact that they come with a thinking process of the involved stakeholders (mainly Marcus), not simply plainly summarized with facts and lessons.

The book ends with Marcus's own narrative, which I found to be a really emotional and reflective touch. I will definitely revisit this book in later stages of my life since I believe Stoicism can only be perfected with life experience.

Please consider reading this, especially if you're struggling with uncertainty, anxiety, anger, or pain right now.
Profile Image for GONZA.
6,366 reviews107 followers
April 3, 2019
I liked this book a lot, mostly because of the comparison between stoicism and the cognitive behavioral therapy. I am a long time fan of Marco Aurelio, even before the movie "Gladiator" or the book of Marguerite Yourcenar made him a well known Emperor between all the others, but I still think he was one of the best and Everybody should read his Meditations.

Questo libro mi é piaciuto molto, fondamentalmente grazie ai paragoni che l'autore faceva costantemente trai principi stoici e quelli che regolano la terapia cognitivo comportamentale. Inoltre sono da molto molto tempo una grande fan di Marco Aurelio, prima che ascendesse agli onori della cronaca per via del film "Il gladiatore" o il libro della Yourcenar (Le memorie di Adriano): Lo ritengo uno dei principali imperatori romani, specialmente se paragonato alla maggior parte di loro e penso che sarebbe molto importante che ognuno di noi leggesse le "Meditazioni".

Profile Image for Vadim.
189 reviews25 followers
December 31, 2020
В книге доступной также в аудиоформате, всего 8 глав и первые шесть достаточно скучные, повествующие историю римского государства и эволюцию философии стоиков.

Сюжет седьмой главы позволяет провести параллели с современностью и раскрывает практическое применение философии стоиков в период кризиса - при попытке государственного переворота. Марк Аврелий проявляет себя как мудрый правитель и ситуация разрешается без большого кровопролития.

Бриллиантом книги является заключительная глава, полностью посвященная последнему дню жизни умирающего императора, о котором пишет... он сам! Это прекрасное осмысление пройденного пути, бесстрашие перед лицом смерти и философское понимание сущности мироздания. С удовольствием прослушал эту исповедь дважды, рекомендую.
Profile Image for Lucas Yang.
26 reviews1 follower
July 31, 2021
Part history, part philosophy, and part self-help, in this book Donald Robertson teaches us in a simple way how we can live better lives according to the Stoic principles--the same principles that helped Marcus Aurelius to live his life as Emperor of Rome.

I've tried to read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius before, but found myself lost and unable to understand his messages. After reading this book, Marcus's messages became clearer to me.

If you are someone who is seeking to heighten your values and to learn how to conquer desire, fear, pain, or anger, this is the book for you.

Sometimes, I found the content a little repetitive, which is understandable as the same core principles are applied different facets of life.
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