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How Can Reason Overrule Our Emotional Mind? Stoicism Explained

Beth Bradford

March 20, 2023 at 11:08:59 AM

Stoics believed that emotions are not inherently bad, but that we should strive to keep them under control. They believed that we should not be ruled by our emotions, but rather use reason to guide our actions.

We’re all familiar with being swept away by our emotions. Whether it’s the joy of accomplishment, the frustration of failure, or even the anger or sadness of tragedy, our emotional mind is often in control. But, what if there was a way to reason over our emotions and maintain a sense of balanced mental clarity? That’s where Stoicism comes in.

Stoicism is an ancient school of thought that teaches us how to live in harmony with reason, even amidst difficult circumstances. It teaches us to accept things we cannot control and remain indifferent to external events so that we can focus on living a life of virtue. Through Stoicism, we can learn to recognize our emotional responses and take rational steps to manage them in healthy ways.

In this article, we explore the philosophy of Stoicism and provide insight into how it can help us reason over our emotional mind for a more balanced mental state.

What Is Stoicism? Overview of the Philosophy

The Stoic philosophy is an ancient set of teachings that emphasizes finding inner peace by mastering our emotions, thoughts, and actions. It was founded under the teachings of Zeno in the Hellenistic period over 2,000 years ago. But even today, Stoicism is still highly applicable to modern-day life.

At its core, Stoicism encourages people to be rational and focus on their internal development instead of relying on external factors or possessions for their happiness. The underlying message is that we have full control over the way we interpret situations and our reactions to them—so if we train ourselves in this philosophy, we can develop a stable mental state.

With this in mind, Stoics believe understanding our emotions is key to achieving emotional balance and developing inner peace. They assert that instead of trying to suppress or ignore our emotions, it’s important to recognize them—then use reason to assess whether they are beneficial or potentially harmful. Ultimately, this helps us cultivate a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

Reason vs Emotion: The Stoic Argument

Stoic philosophy teaches that one should be able to recognize the underlying causes of their emotions and respond with reason rather than reacting emotionally. This is done by understanding the nature of reality and not letting one’s emotions cloud judgment.

Stoic logic relies on three key concepts:

  • Impermanence - Everything is changing in some way and all things are temporary, so it is pointless to get too attached to anything.

  • Acceptance - Events will happen regardless of one's opinion, so it is best to accept what is out of your control and focus on that which can be directed through conscious effort.

  • Action - Focusing on what can be changed through conscious effort empowers the individual to take action in the face of any situation.

By adopting these pillars, Stoicism gives us a way to manage our emotional responses. Reason helps us remember that nothing lasts forever and that we have the power to act in our own self-interest—even in seemingly uncontrollable situations—without letting our emotions get in the way.

What Key Leaders of Stoicism Say About Emotions

According to Stoicism, emotions can often be disruptive and difficult to control. However, our ability to reason can help us recognize and address these emotions. Stoic philosophers have identified some of the key tenets for overcoming emotional reactions, including:

The dichotomy of control

Marcus Aurelius argued that we should focus our attention on the things that are within our control, such as our attitudes and behaviors, instead of the things outside of our control. This is because we cannot change external circumstances or other people's opinions.

Negative visualization

Epictetus taught that if we can fully prepare for the worst-case scenario, then any other outcome will ultimately be more bearable. He suggests regularly imagining life without material possessions or loved ones to remain emotionally grounded in times of stress or disappointment.

Rational decision-making

Seneca advised his students to take a rational approach by evaluating their decisions based on facts rather than feelings. He strongly advocated for taking logical steps before making any decisions that may result in regret, such as carefully considering potential consequences and asking trusted advisors for advice.

By employing these simple techniques every day, we can begin to gain greater mastery over our feelings and use reason as the guide towards a more fulfilling life.

The Three Pillars of Stoicism & Self-Discipline

Stoicism is built upon three main pillars that provide guidance on how to practice it in our everyday lives.

Control Your Emotions

It's all about maintaining emotional balance and control. Stoics believe that any emotion or thought that incites us to act rashly, without adequate reflection, can be damaging to our overall well-being. The Stoic philosophy recommends learning how to detach ourselves from the ups and downs of life; by recognizing that the emotion we’re feeling is transitory, we can become less overwhelmed and in control of our thoughts and feelings.

Cultivate Self-Awareness

Self-awareness involves understanding what and why we are feeling something as well as acknowledging how our emotions and reactions could be influencing our decisions and actions. For example, if a situation arises where you feel overwhelmed with anger, being self-aware might allow you to recognize that this emotion is masking other underlying emotions such as fear or insecurity.

Practice Self-Discipline

Self-discipline helps us stay on track with our goals and ambitions, especially when faced with difficult circumstances or moments when strong emotions become overwhelming. It allows us to stay focused on achieving long-term objectives rather than succumbing to short term temptations or reacting impulsively to external influences or stimuli. Through mindful practice of self-discipline, it becomes easier to move beyond the emotional rollercoaster of life towards more rational decisions rooted in purpose and meaning.

How to Practice Self-Discipline Through Stoicism?

Stoicism can help you learn to regulate and control your emotions, in order to become a better version of yourself. It is not about becoming emotionless—in fact, Stoics believe that emotions can be useful if used properly. The key is to practice self-discipline and use reason to override your emotional mind.

Here are some ways in which you can practice self-discipline through Stoicism:

  1. Understand that no one else has control over your life but you - Your only responsibility is to make the most of the decisions and choices that lay before you. By accepting this, you become less emotionally attached to outcomes or external stimuli.

  2. Be aware of your own thoughts - When negative thoughts arise, take a step back and observe them, instead of letting them consume you. This allows you to pause and think about how your actions will affect yourself and others before making a decision.

  3. Practice mindfulness - Stoics believe in living in the moment and not allowing yourself to be consumed by worries about the future or regrets about the past. Living in the present allows for more rational thought processes when it comes to making decisions or dealing with difficult emotions.

  4. Focus on improving yourself - Instead of trying to control the external world around you, focus on improving yourself and becoming a better person each day through self-discipline and mindful thinking.

Why Does Stoicism Work? Understanding Mindset & Emotions

Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that advocates for the rational control of emotions. Stoics believe that emotions are irrational and can often lead us astray if we are not careful. But why does stoicism work?

Rationality vs Emotion

At its core, Stoicism seeks to instill in us a sense of rationality over emotion. It is rooted in the belief that if we use reason over emotion to make decisions, then our lives can be more productive, meaningful and ultimately easier to handle. The Stoic school of thought teaches us to develop an emotionally-detached mindset where we view our emotions objectively and dispassionately. In essence, we learn to distinguish between the "facts" and the "interpretations" of those facts - separating our thoughts from our emotions so that neither dominates our decision-making process.

Self-Awareness & Mindset

In order for stoicism to work, you must be aware of your emotional state at all times. This means understanding your triggers - what makes you anxious or angry - and learning how to control them. For example, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with a situation at work, it's important that you check yourself before reacting emotionally as this could lead to further adversity or conflict. To do this effectively requires a certain degree of self-awareness and practice in controlling your emotional responses.

By understanding how reason can overcome emotion, we can gain the necessary skills to make more conscious decisions with greater clarity and insight, allowing us to get ahead in life and make better use of opportunities as they come up.

What About Positive Emotions in Stoicism?

You might think that, according to Stoicism, we should never feel any emotion. In reality, Stoicism teaches that we should be mindful of the emotions we feel and how we respond to them. The key is to maintain some distance from them.

Positive emotions like joy, praise or admiration are still to be embraced as long as we don't become attached to them. Instead, Stoics recognize these feelings as what they are - fleeting moments of pleasure - and strive for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose in life.

This doesn't mean that all feelings are bad. On the contrary, Stoics believe that it's important to be open to our emotional experiences, but also aware of their transient nature. According to Stoicism, this allows us to create a life of greater balance, understanding and purpose.

In short, by practicing Stoic philosophy we learn to observe our emotional states objectively and examine their impact on our decisions and behavior. This practice can help us gain emotional control over our reactions and make decisions grounded in reason instead of emotion.


In conclusion, the Stoic philosophy highlights the importance of using reason to control emotions and be a better version of ourselves. Self-discipline is a key factor in this, and it's important to remember to pay attention to our inner states and to practice mindfulness each day.

Stoicism is an ancient philosophy, but it is still very relevant today. It can help us better understand the power of our emotions, and how our rational minds can help us get to a place of peace and harmony. By developing our sense of reason and being mindful of our emotions, we can learn to overcome our irrational impulses and lead a life of tranquility.

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