10 questions to change your life

Gabriel Wilensky

In this article, we ask ten key questions all of us should be asking ourselves to change our lives for the better. To answer them, we delve into the profound insights of Stoic philosophy, exploring how it can shape our perspectives and actions in crucial aspects of life. Stoicism, an ancient philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium, is a philosophy that teaches us to live a good life by focusing on what is within our control and accepting what is not. Stoics believe that we should strive to be virtuous, live in the present moment, and not let our emotions control us.

From understanding our purpose and values to gaining control over our emotions, embracing the present moment, and making a positive difference in the world, we embark on a journey to uncover the Stoic approach to living a virtuous and meaningful life. Join us as we draw inspiration from the Stoic masters and discover practical wisdom that can transform our lives and empower us to flourish amidst the ebb and flow of existence.

Stoicism is a philosophy that teaches us to live a good life by focusing on what is within our control and accepting what is not.

Here are ten questions that a person interested in changing their lives might ask themselves:


What is my purpose in life? What do I want to achieve with my time on Earth?

From a Stoic perspective, this question pertains to understanding and fulfilling your role and duties in the world, aligning with the principles of virtue and reason. Stoicism emphasizes living in accordance with nature and cultivating inner virtues to achieve tranquility and flourishing.

According to Stoicism, you have a unique purpose or vocation to fulfill in your life, which is rooted in your inherent capacity for reason and your connection to the larger order of the universe. The focus is not on external circumstances or achieving personal desires, but rather on living a virtuous life and fulfilling your duties as a rational being.

Examples of purposes in life from a Stoic perspective include:

  • Cultivating Wisdom and Virtue: Stoicism places a strong emphasis on the pursuit of wisdom and moral virtues such as justice, courage, temperance, and wisdom itself. Your purpose could involve dedicating your life to the cultivation and embodiment of these virtues, striving to improve yourself and contribute to the betterment of society.
  • Serving Humanity: Stoics believed in the interconnectedness of all humans and the importance of serving the common good. Your purpose could involve working towards the welfare of others, whether through acts of kindness, philanthropy, or engaging in professions that directly benefit society, such as healthcare, education, or social work.
  • Fulfilling One’s Social Roles: Stoicism emphasizes the recognition and fulfillment of the roles one plays in various relationships and social contexts. These roles could include being a good parent, a supportive friend, a responsible citizen, or a diligent employee. Your purpose would involve living up to these roles and responsibilities with integrity, fairness, and compassion.

It’s important to note that Stoicism encourages you to focus on what is within your control—your own thoughts, actions, and attitudes—rather than getting caught up in external circumstances or outcomes. Therefore, the purpose in life, according to Stoicism, is not tied to external achievements or specific goals, but rather to the cultivation of inner virtues and the pursuit of excellence in your character and conduct.


What are my values? What is important to me in life?

From a Stoic perspective, this question relates to identifying and aligning oneself with the fundamental principles that lead to a life of wisdom, virtue, and inner tranquility. Stoicism emphasizes the cultivation of virtues such as wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance, which form the core values of a Stoic individual.

Values are not based on external possessions or transient desires, but rather on enduring qualities that lead to moral excellence and a virtuous life. The focus is on developing and embodying these values to flourish and to live in accordance with nature.

Examples of values from a Stoic perspective include:

  • Wisdom: The value of wisdom involves seeking knowledge, cultivating rationality, and developing a deep understanding of yourself and the world. It entails the continuous pursuit of truth and the application of reason in decision-making, allowing you to navigate life’s challenges with clarity and insight.
  • Courage: Courage, as a Stoic value, refers to the ability to face adversity and hardship with resilience, strength, and moral fortitude. It involves standing up for your principles, acting in the face of fear, and maintaining composure in challenging situations. Stoics believe that true courage arises from an unwavering commitment to virtue, even when faced with external pressures or temptations.
  • Justice: Justice is a fundamental value in Stoicism, emphasizing fairness, equity, and the recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of all individuals. It involves treating others with respect, upholding moral principles, and contributing to the betterment of society. Stoics advocate for acting in accordance with universal reason and recognizing the interconnectedness of all human beings.
  • Temperance: Temperance is the value of self-control and moderation. It involves restraining excessive desires, avoiding emotional extremes, and maintaining inner balance. Stoics believed that practicing temperance leads to greater tranquility and freedom from the burdens of attachment to material possessions or fleeting pleasures.

By reflecting on these values and striving to live in accordance with them, you would cultivate a virtuous character and live a life guided by reason, virtue, and inner peace. It is important to note that these values are considered intrinsic and are not dependent on external circumstances, allowing you to find fulfillment and contentment regardless of external success or adversity.


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What is within my control? What are the things that I can change or influence?

This question relates to understanding and accepting the boundaries of your agency and recognizing the distinction between what lies within and outside your sphere of control. Stoicism emphasizes the importance of focusing your energy and attention on what is within your power, while relinquishing attachment and concern for things that are beyond your control.

This is because there are two primary categories of things: those that are under your control (the internal) and those that are not (the external). The key to leading a peaceful and virtuous life lies in recognizing the difference between these two categories and directing your efforts and attention accordingly.

Examples of things within your control, from a Stoic perspective, include:

  • Your Thoughts and Beliefs: Stoicism teaches that your thoughts and beliefs are under your control. You have the power to choose your perspectives, interpretations, and judgments about the events and circumstances of life. By cultivating rationality and mindfulness, you can choose to adopt helpful and virtuous thoughts, and reject negative or irrational thinking patterns.
  • Your Actions and Behaviors: Stoics emphasize that your actions are within your control. You have the ability to choose your responses to situations, how you treat others, and the actions you take in pursuit of your goals. Stoicism encourages individuals to act in accordance with reason, virtue, and moral principles, regardless of external circumstances or outcomes.

By understanding and accepting the boundaries of what you control, you direct your efforts and attention towards what you can change: your own thoughts, attitudes, and actions. This mindset enables you to cultivate inner peace, resilience, and virtue, irrespective of the ever-changing external world.


What is not within my control? What are the things that I cannot change or influence?

On the other hand, examples of things outside of your control, or the external, include:

  • Other People’s Opinions and Actions: Stoics recognize that we cannot control how others think, feel, or behave. It is beyond your power to dictate or change the opinions, judgments, or actions of others. So, focus on your own conduct and intentions, rather than seeking external validation or trying to control others.
  • External Events and Circumstances: Stoics emphasize that external events, such as the weather, the actions of others, or unexpected situations, are outside of our control. You cannot directly influence or alter these circumstances. However, you do have control over how you respond to these events and the attitude you adopt towards them.

Focusing on things that are beyond your control is futile. You cannot change them, and so it’s a waste of time to dwell on them or let you affect you negatively.

By understanding and accepting the boundaries of what you control, you direct your efforts and attention towards what you can change: your own thoughts, attitudes, and actions.


How can I better control my emotions? How can I avoid letting my emotions control my behavior?

This question delves into the practice of emotional regulation and the cultivation of an inner state of tranquility and equanimity. Stoicism teaches individuals to develop a mindful and rational approach to emotions, allowing you to respond to challenging situations with wisdom and virtue, rather than being overwhelmed or controlled by your emotional impulses. 

Emotions arise from your judgments and interpretations of events, rather than being inherently caused by external circumstances. Therefore, you must emphasize the importance of examining your thoughts and beliefs about a situation and adopting a rational perspective to regulate your emotions effectively.

Here are a couple of strategies to better control your emotions:

  1. Practice Mindful Awareness: Cultivate mindful awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. By developing a moment-to-moment awareness of your internal states, you can observe and recognize the arising of emotions as they happen. This awareness creates a space between the stimulus and your response, allowing you to choose a reasoned and virtuous reaction rather than succumbing to impulsive emotional reactions.
  2. Examine and Challenge Beliefs: You should examine the beliefs and judgments that underlie your emotional reactions. By critically evaluating the accuracy and rationality of your thoughts, you can challenge and reframe them in a way that aligns with Stoic principles. This process involves questioning the validity of your initial emotional response and seeking a broader, more objective perspective.

For example:

  • Let’s say someone criticizes you harshly in a public setting. The Stoic approach would involve pausing and recognizing the arising of emotions like anger or embarrassment. By examining your beliefs, you may realize that the criticism does not define your worth or affect your inner virtue. You can choose to respond calmly and constructively, considering the situation from a broader perspective.
  • Imagine encountering an unexpected setback or failure in your professional life. Instead of being consumed by despair or frustration, Stoicism encourages you to reframe your perspective. By reminding yourself that setbacks are a natural part of life and that you have the power to learn and grow from them, you can transform your emotional response into one of resilience, determination, and a commitment to improve.

It would be wise of you to recognize that emotions are impressions influenced by your judgments and beliefs, and that you have the power to shape your reactions through reason and wisdom. By cultivating a mindful and rational approach to emotions, you can avoid being controlled by your emotional impulses and instead respond with virtue and inner tranquility.


    How can I live in the present moment? How can I focus on the here and now, and not dwell on the past or worry about the future?

    This question addresses the practice of cultivating mindfulness and embracing the present reality. It’s important you live in accordance with nature and direct your attention and efforts towards the present moment, rather than being consumed by regrets about the past or anxieties about the future.

    Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future detracts from your ability to fully engage with the present and impedes your pursuit of virtue and tranquility. Embrace the present moment as the only moment within your control and use it to cultivate wisdom, virtue, and inner peace.

    Here are a couple of strategies to live in the present moment:

    1. Practice Mindfulness and Acceptance: You should cultivate mindfulness, which involves intentionally paying attention to the present moment without judgment. By fully immersing yourself in the present experience, you can better appreciate the beauty and richness of each moment. Also, you should accept the present reality by acknowledging that some aspects of life are beyond your control, and focusing on how you choose to respond to them.
    2. Contemplate Impermanence and Fate: Reflect on the transient nature of life and the inevitability of change. By contemplating the impermanence of both positive and negative experiences, you can develop a sense of detachment from external outcomes and foster an appreciation for the present moment. Also contemplate the concept of fate, recognizing that some events are beyond our control and that worrying about the future serves no practical purpose.

    For example:

    • Imagine you are taking a walk in nature. The Stoic approach would involve fully engaging your senses in the present moment. You might observe the colors and textures of the flowers, feel the warmth of the sunlight on your skin, and listen to the sounds of birds chirping. By focusing on the present experience and savoring each moment, you can cultivate a sense of gratitude and tranquility.
    • Consider a situation where you are facing a challenging decision that has consequences for the future. Instead of allowing anxiety and worry to consume you, Stoicism encourages you to focus on the present moment and the factors within your control. By making a reasoned decision based on virtue and utilizing your available resources and knowledge, you can act with integrity and find peace in knowing you have done your best.

    You need to recognize that the present moment is the only moment within your control and that dwelling on the past or worrying about the future detracts from your ability to live virtuously and find inner peace. By practicing mindfulness, acceptance, and contemplating the transient nature of life, you can cultivate a deep appreciation for the present moment and live with a sense of purpose and tranquility.


    How can I be more virtuous? How can I live a life that is characterized by virtue, such as courage, wisdom, justice, and temperance?

    This question revolves around the pursuit and cultivation of moral excellence and the embodiment of virtuous qualities in one’s thoughts, actions, and character. Stoicism emphasizes that the highest good and the path to eudaimonia (flourishing) lie in living a life guided by reason, virtue, and inner tranquility.

    To be more virtuous you should embrace the following principles:

    • Understand and Embrace Virtue: Virtue is the ultimate good and the key to living a fulfilling life. Virtue encompasses qualities such as wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. To be more virtuous, you must develop a deep understanding of these virtues and actively strive to embody them in your daily life.
    • Practice Self-Examination: Self-reflection and self-awareness are crucial tools for cultivating virtue. Regularly examine your own thoughts, beliefs, and actions, as this will allow you to identify areas for improvement and align them with the ideals of Stoic virtue. This involves questioning your own motives, recognizing and rectifying personal flaws, and seeking to align your behavior with virtuous principles.

    Examples of cultivating virtue from a Stoic perspective include:

    • Wisdom: Cultivating wisdom involves pursuing knowledge, seeking truth, and developing a rational understanding of yourself and the world. It entails embracing critical thinking, expanding your intellectual horizons, and being open to new perspectives. It implies striving to make informed decisions based on reason and a deep understanding of the consequences of your actions.
    • Courage: Developing courage in a Stoic sense means facing challenges and adversity with resilience, strength, and moral fortitude. It involves acting in alignment with your principles and values, even in the face of fear or discomfort. For instance, speaking up against injustice, standing firm in the face of criticism, or taking risks for a just cause.
    • Justice: Stoics emphasize the importance of justice, fairness, and treating others with respect and dignity. Being just involves recognizing and upholding the rights and well-being of others, acting with integrity, and striving to contribute positively to society. It could manifest in acts of kindness, advocacy for the marginalized, or making ethical choices that promote the greater good.
    • Temperance: Cultivating temperance entails practicing self-control, moderation, and balance in all aspects of life. It involves restraining excessive desires, avoiding indulgence in harmful habits, and finding harmony within yourself. This virtue might be expressed through practicing healthy habits, managing your emotions, and resisting temptations that may hinder personal growth.

    Keep in mind that the journey towards virtue is a lifelong endeavor, and your should continually strive to improve yourself and align your actions with virtuous principles. By consciously cultivating wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance, you can lead a life characterized by moral excellence and inner tranquility.


    Am I being true to myself? Am I living in a way that is consistent with my values?

    This question examines how aligned your core values and the pursuit of living a life guided by virtue and moral integrity are. It’s important to be self-aware and habitually perform self-examination to ascertain the extent of the alignment of your thoughts and actions with your deeply held principles.

    To determine if you are being true to yourself and are living in accordance with your values, consider the following:

    • Clarity of Values: Clearly identify and define your core values. This involves reflecting on the virtues and principles you hold dear, such as wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. By understanding and articulating these values, you can establish a clear framework for assessing their authenticity and consistency in daily life.
    • Self-Examination: Practice self-reflection and self-examination. By regularly assessing your own thoughts, intentions, and actions, you can determine whether they are aligned with your values. This involves critically examining your own behavior and evaluating whether it aligns with the virtues and principles your hold dear.

    Examples of assessing authenticity and consistency include:

    • Integrity: It’s important to act with integrity and maintain consistency between your beliefs and actions. If you value honesty as a core virtue, but frequently engage in deceptive or dishonest behaviors, you should question whether you are truly being true to yourself. Recognizing this misalignment can serve as a catalyst for personal growth and realignment with your values.
    • Priorities: You should reflect on your priorities and how you allocate your time, energy, and resources. If you claim to value personal growth and knowledge, yet consistently engage in activities that are incongruent with those values, such as excessive indulgence in entertainment or neglecting opportunities for learning, you should question whether you are living authentically. This self-reflection can lead to a reevaluation of your choices and a renewed commitment to align your actions with your values.

    Living in harmony with your values is important, as it leads to a life of authenticity, fulfillment, and inner peace. By engaging in self-examination, regularly assessing your thoughts and actions, and making conscious choices to align with your values, you can cultivate a sense of coherence and live in accordance with your true self.


    Am I being kind and compassionate to others? Am I treating others the way that I would like to be treated?

    This question revolves around the practice of empathy, goodwill, and treating others with respect, dignity, and fairness. It’s important to recognize the shared humanity among all individuals and cultivate a mindset of benevolence and compassion towards others.

    To assess your kindness and compassion towards others, considering the following:

    • Universal Reasoning: Recognize the inherent worth and rationality of all human beings. By viewing others as fellow rational agents capable of reason and moral agency, you can develop a sense of empathy and understanding. This perspective allows for treating others with kindness and compassion, acknowledging their needs and aspirations.
    • The Golden Rule: Stoicism emphasizes the application of the Golden Rule, which involves treating others as one would like to be treated. By extending goodwill, fairness, and compassion towards others, you can foster harmonious relationships and contribute to the well-being of the broader community.

    Examples of practicing kindness and compassion could include:

    • Empathy: Cultivate empathy by putting yourself in others’ shoes and seeking to understand their perspectives, struggles, and needs. For instance, if you encounter a person who is going through a difficult time, you can practice empathy by actively listening, offering support, and providing comfort, just as you would desire in similar circumstances.
    • Acts of Kindness: Engage in acts of kindness and benevolence towards others. This can include offering assistance to those in need, showing gratitude and appreciation, or engaging in random acts of kindness. By demonstrating acts of compassion, you can foster a sense of interconnectedness and contribute to a more virtuous and harmonious society.

    Kindness and compassion are not only beneficial to others but also contribute to your own moral growth and inner peace. By treating others with empathy, kindness, and fairness, you embody the Stoic ideals of virtue and contribute to the cultivation of a more compassionate and just world.


    Am I making a positive difference in the world? Am I using my time and talents to help others?

    This last question revolves around the notion of virtue and the pursuit of contributing to the betterment of society and the well-being of others. We must live a life of purpose and align our actions and talents with the greater good.

    To assess whether you are making a positive difference and utilizing your time and talents to help others, consider the following:

    • Recognition of Common Humanity: Recognize the shared humanity among all individuals. By acknowledging the interconnectedness of human beings, you can develop a sense of responsibility and compassion towards others. This recognition forms the foundation for seeking opportunities to make a positive impact and offer assistance.
    • Service to Others: Actively engage in acts of service and contribute to the well-being of others. It involves utilizing your time, talents, and resources to help those in need, promote justice, and foster positive change. By directing your efforts towards benefiting others, you align your actions with the virtues of compassion, justice, and kindness.

    Examples of making a positive difference could include:

    • Volunteering: Perhaps you can engage in volunteering activities aligned with your values and passions. This can involve contributing time and skills to organizations or causes that promote social justice, education, environmental sustainability, or community development. By volunteering, you actively use your talents to help others and make a positive impact on your community.
    • Mentorship and Guidance: It’s important to share knowledge, experience, and wisdom with others. Engaging in mentorship or offering guidance to those in need allows you to utilize your expertise to support and empower others on their life journeys. By providing guidance and support, you can make a positive difference in the lives of others and contribute to their personal growth and development.

    Stoicism emphasizes the value of living a life of purpose and contributing to the well-being of others. By recognizing the interconnectedness of humanity and actively utilizing your time and talents for the betterment of society, you align your actions with virtue and find fulfillment in making a positive difference in the world.

    By asking yourself these ten questions, you can gain a better understanding of yourself and your place in the world. This can help you to live more fulfilling and meaningful life.

      Embracing the teachings of Stoicism offers us a profound opportunity to navigate life’s challenges with resilience, integrity, and compassion. As we reflect on our purpose, values, control over emotions, presence in the present moment, and the impact we have on others, we unlock the potential for personal growth and transformation. By cultivating virtue and aligning our thoughts and actions with reason, we discover a path towards inner tranquility and a life of meaning. Stoic philosophy reminds us that while we cannot always control external circumstances, we have the power to shape our responses and attitudes. Let us embrace Stoic wisdom, integrate its principles into our lives, and embark on a journey towards virtuous living, where our actions and choices contribute to a more compassionate, just, and harmonious world.

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