Temperance: The stoic Art of Self-discipline

Temperance, or self-control, is one of the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism and is an essential skill to master. With social media battling for your attention and everything moving fast, it is easy to act out on impulse. This happens especially when you feel cornered by a situation in life and feel the need to mitigate that situation as soon as possible. Situations happen independently and how you choose to react to them is entirely up to you. In this article, I am going to show you how to control yourself in a world where dopamine activators are placed on our screens. I am also going to teach you how to leverage temperance to get the best out of sticky situations.

Zeno of Citium quote

What is Temperance?

Temperance, as we have discussed, is one of the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism. The four cardinal virtues are the moral compass which the stoics use to judge and weigh their actions. Temperance is the ability to regulate our thoughts, emotions, and actions in order to achieve our goals and make rational decisions. It is the quality of moderation and self-constraint. It is a desirable skill if not an indispensable one in today’s fast-paced world.

Importance of Temperance

Whether in your personal life or professional life, controlling your emotions will be of vitality in your success and well-being. Practicing temperance comes with its own perks.

Personally, it helps in the following ways:

  1. Management of finances – Self-control will help you resist impulsive purchases and emotional spending. These are the purchases you make way beyond your needs and wants. These are the purchases that you make and later on wonder where your money went because you didn’t think them through. Temperance keeps your spending in check which will in turn keep your mind sound.
  2. Friendship/relationship maintenance – Temperance helps us control our emotions and tongues. Self-control helps you avoid saying things or engaging in actions you might regret later. This will help your relationships and friendships last longer. It will also help you cultivate better ones. People tend to like people who can keep it together, stay calm, and not act out.
  3. Inner peace and emotional stability – If you are going to practice stoicism, then you need to have inner peace, otherwise you are just on this circular road and you are always back to where you started with being irrational and self-loathing. When you learn to control your emotions, you find emotional stability and inner peace. Emotional growth is also in it for you as you develop high-level emotions such as empathy where you get to understand other people’s emotions.

Temperance can also help you advance in your career in a couple of ways:

  1. Emotional control at work – Keeping your cool at work is a great way to show your employers that you are reliable, composed, and approachable. It also keeps you on good terms with other employees. This will lead to good chances of you getting recommended for leadership roles.
  2. Resist distractions – Self-control can help you focus on the task at hand and avoid distractions like your phone and the urge to engage in small talk. This will help you cultivate the good habit of focusing on what’s important.
  3. Avoiding procrastination – Temperance helps you stay organized. You get to plan your day and prioritize your work. Self-control will help you keep your composure to finish all your work on time. This will help you always be ahead of the many tasks that your boss pushes your way.

Mastering Self-discipline

Self-discipline is the unwavering ability to control one’s feelings and overcome one’s weaknesses. It is the inner strength that empowers one to make sensible choices that align with one’s goals. Self-discipline is rooted in self-control and willpower, and it can enable stoics to stay focused on their objectives. Stoics master self-discipline by setting clear priorities, adhering to routines, and embracing delayed gratification. By practicing self-discipline daily, one achieves a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It eventually becomes a guiding force that propels the stoic toward self-mastery and the fulfillment of their deepest ambitions.

Mastering self-discipline goes beyond mere control; it signifies the cultivation of an inner stronghold that enables one to build a shield of resilience. It is a journey of self-discovery that involves breaking down ambiguous tasks into manageable steps and consistently making intentional choices that define progress.

By taming impulses and curbing distractions, the stoic harnesses the power to focus on long-term goals, even in challenging circumstances. As a cornerstone of personal growth, self-discipline empowers individuals to transcend limitations, adapt to change, and embrace discomfort as a stepping stone to achievement. Ultimately, it is the key to unlocking the door to self-control & self-empowerment. It enables Stoics to tap into their true potential and forge a path of purpose and success.

Practical Techniques to Cultivate Self-Control Using Stoic Principles

As we have drawn from this discussion, mastering self-discipline is a valuable skill for Stoics. It can significantly improve various aspects of one’s life, from achieving personal goals to advancing one’s professional career. Here are some strategies and tips to help you, as a Stoic, practice self-discipline daily thereby enhancing their temperance:

"We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from these progress to things of greater value " - Marcus Aurelius
  1. Set Clear Goals: Clearly define your short-term and long-term goals. Having a clear sense of purpose will give you a little incentive to stay disciplined. Ensure you write them down and make them as clear as possible.
  2. Prioritize Tasks: Plan your days before they start. Prioritize tasks based on their urgency. Focus on completing high-priority tasks before moving on to other ones. Making a to-do list is a great way to sort this out.
  3. Create a Routine: Establish a daily routine that includes specific times for work, exercise, and relaxation. This will help you always strike a balance between doing hard things and easing back. Following a routine minimizes distractions and maintain consistency.
  4. Practice Time Management: Allocate specific time blocks for different tasks. Use techniques like the Pomodoro Technique (working in focused intervals followed by short breaks) to maintain productivity and avoid burnout. Burnouts drain your focus and consistency. Striking a balance is an essential skill for the Stoics.
  5. Eliminate Distractions: Identify and minimize distractions that can disrupt your focus. In our era, the biggest distraction is your phone. Turning off notifications, creating a dedicated workspace, and using website blockers is a great way to minimize the number of times you get compelled to look at that small screen.
  6. Break Tasks Down: Divide larger tasks or goals into smaller, manageable steps. This approach makes the task less daunting and also keeps you motivated. Marcus Aurelius said, “We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from these progress to things of greater value “. From this, we learn that decomposing life events and activities can help us progress in life. Always try to break down things as much as possible to give your mind an easy time to process them.
  7. Practice Delayed Gratification: Train your mind to delay immediate rewards for greater long-term benefits in the future. Our devices have provided access to the internet which enables us to get feedback instantly. This is a good thing but as a Stoic, learn to strike that balance between the virtual world and the real world. You don’t have to order food every time. Get out and pick those groceries by yourself. Don’t research everything over the internet to get one-liner. Read whole books and you will find that you gained more than you bargained for. Resist the temptation to access explicit content for instant gratification. Delayed gratification over instant gratification will always bring you benefits.
  8. Meditate: To practice Stoicism, you have to try as much as possible to pick a leaf from the ancient Stoics. This includes Stoic philosophers. These remarkable human beings required concentration to live as they did. They achieved this level of focus by meditating regularly. Meditation requires you to clear your mind and focus on your inner-self. Listen to what your soul is telling you.
  9. Stay Accountable: Share your goals with a friend or a family member. Having a mentor who can hold you accountable for your progress is also a good record tracker. Journaling your daily events also helps you have a point of reference to how you improve your perspective of things. You could also consider joining a group or using apps that track your progress.
  10. Practice Self-Care: Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is crucial for maintaining self-discipline. In the article on how to promote justice as a Stoic, I wrote of how doing justice to yourself can make a difference to both your life and others as well. Get enough sleep, eat healthily, exercise regularly, and engage in relaxation techniques. This will keep your mind sound as you aim for optimum stoic thinking.

Remember that mastering self-discipline and self-control takes time and consistent effort. Be patient with yourself and stay committed. Meditate when you get stuck, and take a breath when you feel overwhelmed.


As we have discussed, temperance is one of the four cardinal virtues of stoicism. As a Stoic, you should aim to use the techniques we have listed to achieve optimum self-discipline and self-control. Temperance is important to both your personal life and career advancement. Ancient Stoic philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius provide us with wisdom on how to practice temperance. They urge us to try smaller objectives before moving on to greater things. As a Stoic, staying calm and controlling your emotions is a good way to focus on what is important.

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