Courage to Abstain

“We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise, courage will vanish, which should continually test itself. Greatness of soul will be lost, which can’t stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable.”


Today’s page in The Daily Stoic seems to be a call to give up various creature comforts and vices that we think we need, but don’t really. Author Ryan Holiday shares the perfect example of coffee usage — we become dependent on the caffeine jolt each morning, so we think we need it and effectively become addicted.

Another example would be the constant pull of our phones, which we compulsively check every few seconds even though there’s nothing truly requiring us to. We think we need to — we think there’s something important that could happen and we’d miss the notification. So we turn over part of our mental clarity and surrender part of our day’s time and energy to an addiction. It seems so harmless on the surface, especially when we’re “considering them to be good”.

What’s the risk? “Courage will vanish,” Seneca says. Our bravery and openness need to be constantly challenged, which gives them strength and resilience — we gain inner strength by doing things that are difficult and new. But by clinging to our addictions and our ‘creature comforts’, our courage evaporates and we aren’t challenging ourselves anymore. We stop growing. It takes real courage to abstain.

Another risk of addiction that “greatness of soul will be lost”, because we’ve surrendered to what’s easy and commonplace. We’ve given in to our assumptions that we need coffee to live, and we need our phones to ‘stay connected’. We’ve acceded to other addictions, too, and sought out other safe harbors. Greatness of soul, diverted into comfort zones, because we’re enslaved by fear.

Over the past 6 months, I’ve forced myself to get out of my comfort zone, and I have given myself the courage to abstain from several things that I thought I needed. They were addictions because I made them so.

This included things like staying up too late, late-night snacking, getting up late in the morning, drinking too much, reading lots of online news, spending too much time at work. I’ve abstained from all these things recently. It’s been hard, no doubt! But it’s very empowering, and I feel my courage growing 🙂

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