Do you feel like you're stuck in your comfort zone and terrified of change, even if it could be for the better? If so, you're not alone. We've compiled a giant list of Stoic quotes on change to help you change your life by accepting the ever-changing nature of reality.
Religions and philosophies around the world have discussed the notion of impermanence for millennia. An element in Buddhism, Hinduism, and ancient Greek philosophy, change is a matter of much discussion by the ancient Stoic philosophers.
According to the Stoics, change is a fundamental reality of life. In fact, in the words of Marcus Aurelius, "the universe is change."
How can we change our mindset to embrace change rather than fear it? How can we see the potential in change even as it threatens our comfy status quo?
In the best-selling book The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss notes that "most people choose to be unhappy rather than uncertain." While that might sound absurd from the outset, if you chew on it for a while it starts to seem disturbingly on point.
Why are we so afraid of change even though most of us know that change is inevitable? Why would we prefer to stay in our comfort zone even when it holds us back from fulfilling our potential?
Understanding how the brain interprets change could become a full-time research project if you wanted it to be. Regardless, though, understanding why we fear change doesn't necessarily help us overcome that fear.
So, instead, let's look at a collection of quotes about the inevitability of change by some of history's greatest minds. If we can learn to accept change as a positive, inevitable force, we can change our lives for the better.
"The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it."– Marcus Aurelius
What if you understood the universe as a place that is in a constant state of flux and evolution? What if you fundamentally altered your life by changing the nature of your thoughts?
“Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on forever.” – Marcus Aurelius
Here, Marcus Aurelius is speaking about what happens after death. He posits that he is "composed of the formal and the material," night of which can disappear "into non-existence" because neither of them appeared "out of non-existence." Ultimately, he is eloquently explaining the extent to which birth, life, and death are all experiences of change rather than strictly creation or destruction.
“Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And can you take a hot bath unless the wood for the fire undergoes a change? And can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see then that for yourself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature?” – Marcus Aurelius
Change that improves your life is just as inevitable as change that seems to make your life more difficult. You can't have one without the other.
“Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them.” – Marcus Aurelius
If you can take note of the extent to which everything that happens is a product of change, you might find that your discomfort with it lessens over time and you can even start to embrace it.
“Keep constantly in mind in how many things you yourself have witnessed changes already. The universe is change, life is understanding.” – Marcus Aurelius
Again, our friend Marcus Aurelius reminds us to welcome the all-encompassing reality of change.
“All things change, and you yourself are constantly wasting away. So also is the universe.” – Marcus Aurelius
Perhaps it sounds a bit morbid, but the reality that you (and the universe) are "constantly wasting away) can actually be a great motivator to hop out of bed and live your best life.
“...Time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life.” – John F. Kennedy
Have you ever known someone that was so married to their routine that it seemed as though there was no difference between their days, months, years, or even decades? One should be wary of falling into this trap. If you desperately want time and the world to stand still, you'll create a delusional existence where it only appears that is the case.
“There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus
Who doesn't love a good paradox? If you have a hard time accepting change, this is a classic quote to hang on your wall as a lovely little reminder of the inevitability of change.
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” – Flannery O’Connor
Perhaps an unpopular opinion these days, but I have to say I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. O'Conner here. I'd even wager to guess that the ancient Stoics would, too.
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man. – Heraclitus
In our culture, we seem to like to think that we are one fixed personality, one whole unit of "us" that lasts from when we are born until when we die. However, we are constantly changing, whether we even realize it. At the same time, everything around us is constantly in flux, too.
“Times of luxury do not last long, but pass away very quickly; nothing in this world can be long enjoyed.” – Buddha
If you're in times of trouble, it can be helpful to remember that "this too shall pass." Don't forget to have the same thought when things are going uniquely well for you, though. This isn't meant to be depressing, but rather a gentle nudge reminding you to appreciate what you have at the moment.
“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” – Confucius
This is perhaps the original iteration of Jordan Peterson's "clean your room" injunction. If you want to change the world, start with yourself and work your way out.
“Nothing ever is, everything is becoming.” – Plato
Beautiful. True. What more can I say?
“Everything is perpetually becoming new.” – Alan Watts
If you are struggling with a difficult change, challenge yourself to see your present experience as "new" instead of "bad." If you can see the potential in the flux, incredible things can happen.
One of the central concepts of Stoic philosophy is that there are some things in life that you can control and some things you can't. The idea is that you can primarily control things like your outlook, your thoughts, and your actions, and then pretty much everything else is out of your hand. So what is the Stoic perspective on how to view change when it's happening outside of yourself?
"Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight." – Marcus Aurelius
Loss is one of the most difficult things in life to deal with. Whether it's the end of a relationship, getting fired from your job, or the death of a parent, it's important to grieve when you experience loss. That being said, if you can see loss as change, which is, in turn, Nature's delight, you might be able to make the best of it despite (or thanks to) the pain you experienced.
“In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices.” – Epictetus
If you want to know who to turn to when it comes to understanding what you can and can't control, Epictetus is the guy to ask.
"'Sweep me up and send me where you please.' For there I will retain my spirit, tranquil and content, as long as it can feel and act in harmony with its own nature. Is a change of place enough reason for my soul to become unhappy and worn, for me to become depressed, humbled, cowering, and afraid? Can you discover any reasons for this?” – Marcus Aurelius
Again, Marcus Aurelius teaches us what it really means to understand that your own thoughts create your reality.
“That last day does not bring extinction to us, but change of place.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
We like to avoid thinking about death in our culture, but if we can learn to accept it as change rather than extinction, we might be able to actually live.
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
The serenity prayer is Stoic to the core.
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy
It's easy to blame everything that's wrong with the world on forces outside of ourselves. But the only thing we can change with certainty is ourselves. And, as a part of the world, when we change ourselves, we in a small way do change the world.
“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.” – Jim Rohn
Personal responsibility has fallen out of fashion in recent times, but Jim Rohn is spot on (and very Stoic) here.
“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” – Carl Jung
If there are things that you don't like about yourself, you have to accept them before a change is possible.
“Everything changes, nothing remains without change.” – Buddha
Ain't it the truth?
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius
Obstacles will inevitably pop up in life. Rather than shaking your fist at the sky when it becomes clear that something stands in your way, consider finding an alternate route.
Can you learn to love change? And not just the "I-won-the-lottery" type of change, but the "bad" kind too?
“Change in all things is sweet.” – Aristotle
What a simple phrase to remind us of the beauty in the ever-evolving nature of the universe.
“Live in each season as it passes; breath the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” – Henry David Thoreau
Have you ever found yourself cursing the heat in the summer and complaining about the cold in the winter? Unless you can learn to appreciate the present moment, however fleeting, you'll always be unsatisfied.
“Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.” – Henry David Thoreau
Embracing change can give you the strength to journey into the depths of your inner self. While it can be scary, painful, and even a bit disturbing, you'll find that there's a wealth of gold hidden right behind the dragon.
“Let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.” Theodore Roosevelt
If you're so afraid of change that you stick to the same old boring routine and ignore the wealth of possibilities in your life, you would qualify as "rusting out" in the eyes of Teddy Roosevelt. If you can understand the deep potential that can come from change, taking risks doesn't have to be so scary.
“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” – Eckhart Tolle
There's a good chance you've had an experience precisely like those described in this quote. Even when the absolute worst thing in the world happens, something catastrophic and traumatizing, you might find down the road that it actually opened the door for incredible personal growth and new opportunities that otherwise never would have come about.
“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.” – Rumi
Several of our wise quote-providers have mirrored this same sentiment. It's easy to see what's wrong with the world and criticize it. It's brave to work to make changes in yourself.
“As you start to walk on the way, the way appears.” – Rumi
Accepting change and having faith seem to go hand in hand. Sometimes, you have to leap to learn that there's land on the other side of the gap to catch your fall.
“One moment can change a day, one day can change a life, and one life can change the world.” – Buddha
It's easy to dream big but it can be hard to break it down into actionable steps. This has left countless people to believe that their goals are too far out of reach. However, each moment of your life has a butterfly effect on the rest of your earthly experience and the rest of the world.
“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” – Buddha
Reminiscent of Jung's statement that "modern man can't see God because he doesn't look low enough," there is something to be said for sitting with a single flower until we know exactly what both Buddha and Jung are getting at here.
“As the water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it, so a wise man adapts himself to circumstances.” – Confucius
It can be scary to change yourself and it's natural to resist circumstances that we're uncomfortable with. But if you can adapt yourself to the world around you (without sacrificing your true self), beautiful things can happen.
“A scholar who loves comfort is not fit to be called a scholar.” – Confucius
This one probably isn't hanging up in the halls of any American universities these days. If you really want to know the truth of the universe, you need to be willing to know something for certain and have it ripped from your hands over and over and over again.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Laozi
Did you ever play with oobleck as a kid? Do you remember how it became a hard surface if you punched it but a soft and mendable substance if you approach it more gently? Yeah, being alive is kind of like that.
“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” – Laozi
When we try to hold on to things that aren't permanent (i.e. everything,) we go through a great deal of pain when they're gone.
“Remember, no human condition is ever permanent. Then you will not be overjoyed in good fortune nor too scornful in misfortune.” – Socrates
Obviously, the idea here isn't to dissociate from life. But if you can embrace the reality of change, you don't have to get taken on an ecstasy-despair see-saw for your entire life.
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” – Friedrich Nietzche
Nietzche is here to remind us that if we are unwilling to embrace change when it comes to our opinions then our minds will die. I'd say the same is true about our souls.
“Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.” -- Arthur Schopenhauer
Another iteration of Heraclitus' quote stating that change is the only thing that is permanent, even the "philosopher of pessimism" makes an argument for embracing change.
“Every possession and every happiness is but lent by chance for an uncertain time, and may therefore be demanded back the next hour.” – Arthur Schopenhauer
Do you find yourself constantly worrying about the past or obsessing over the future? Be careful, because you might miss enjoying the things that are here right now.
“To resist change, to try to cling to life, is therefore like holding your breath: if you persist you kill yourself.” – Alan Watts
Finally, Alan Watts is here to remind us that denying the inevitability of change will kill your spirit. If you can let yourself flow with it, then you can truly thrive.
If you want to grow, you have to be willing to change. The scary part about that is you're going to have to drop parts of yourself that you always assumed were essential to your identity. They're not-- but you can only know this when you learn to embrace change and learn to have faith.
"As long as you live, keep learning how to live." – Seneca
Lots of people graduate from college and assume they're done learning. Be careful of this trap-- the last thing you want to do is be mentally 22 when you're in your 60s. If you don't think it happens to people, you're dead wrong.
“No sensible man (among the many things that have been written on this kind) ever imputed inconsistency to another for changing his mind.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
Don't be afraid to change your mind when you've found new information that challenges your original position. That just means you're growing.
To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
Personal growth is an experience of continuous change.
“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you’re heading.” – Lao Tzu
Don't want to wake up when you're 50 still at the same desk job? Then you're going to need to do something to change that. Otherwise, you probably will.
“Very often a change of self is needed more than a change of scene.” – A.C. Benson
Have you ever felt so frustrated by your life that you wanted to just pack up and move to the other side of the world and start over? Sometimes a change in scenery can be just what the doctor ordered. Remember, though, when you get there, you'll still be stuck with yourself.
“To change one’s life: Start immediately, do it flamboyantly, no exceptions.” – William James
If you want to change your life, you need to let go of all of those stupid things that are holding you back from being different than you currently are. Don't let the idea of what other people will think stop you from becoming your best self. After all, you can't control their opinions, you can only control your own.
“We can change our circumstances by a mere change of our attitude.” – William James
Try it out next time you're waiting in line at the DMV. It's true!
“No change of circumstance can repair a defect of character.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Buying that bigger house or taking that trip to Tulum simply won't fill the hole you feel in your soul. Your problems won't be solved by a winning lottery ticket. Personal growth isn't easy, but if you can confront the parts of you that no longer serve you, you'll find you had a strength you never knew was possible.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cheers to that! Don't let your animal brain tell you that you need to belong to the group in order to not get killed. Through the hard work of personal development, you can be strong enough to be yourself in a world that wants you to be otherwise.
“When you let go of who you are, you become who you might be.” – Rumi
Changing yourself and growing means letting go of parts of yourself that you thought were "you." They aren't. You can do it!
The Stoics believed that you are responsible for your mindset. You have the power to control the way you see the world. If you can change the way you see change, you'll find that your life becomes fertile soil for personal growth and achievement.
"We suffer more in imagination than in reality." – Seneca
This classic Seneca quote can't be repeated too many times. Just like Mark Twain said, "some of the worst things in my life never happened." If you see change up ahead, you might find that your expectation of how horrible it will be only ever existed in your mind.
“It isn't the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgments that they form about them.” – Epictetus
It's often easier to see the way that people are more disturbed by their judgments than by the things themselves in other people rather than ourselves. Next time something really upsets you, though, consider how changing your judgments could change the way you feel.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” – Wayne Dyer
Let's say you got fired from your job. You can look at it as a failure, as evidence of your inadequacy, and as a recipe for certain financial ruin. On the other hand, you can see it as an opportunity to start that business you've been dreaming of starting for years. In this example, the experience of losing your job has a fundamentally different meaning depending on how you look at it.
“The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” – William James
If you love Stoicism, you might love William James, too. If you can change your perception, you can change what your life consists of in a very real way. He also said, “If you can change your mind, you can change your life.”
“The garden of the world has no limits, except in your mind.” – Rumi
The potentials of your life are boundless if you are willing to change your outlook.
“Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have retained of them.” – Marcel Proust
When you're in a personal growth process, it's important to remember that you're not the only one that is ever-becoming. Don't interact with the version of a person you knew ten years ago. Interact with the person that is standing in front of you right now. You might be surprised to find that they have grown and changed.
“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” – John C. Maxwell
If you resist change in your life, change will still occur. If you embrace it and learn to find the lessons hidden inside, you will grow.
“In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first.” – Jimi Hendrix
Once again, we're reminded that the path to changing the world starts with yourself and your own outlook.
“When you get free from certain fixed concepts of the way the world is, you find it is far more subtle, and far more miraculous, than you thought it was.” – Alan Watts
If you're afraid of change, you likely are resistant to anything that even smells like it might threaten your experience in your comfort zone. If you can loosen up, let go of things that no longer serve you, and allow yourself to entertain ideas that you're not sure if you agree with, you start to see that there is a lot more beautiful nuance to reality than you once thought.
Changing your life can be as simple as changing your mindset. This doesn't mean you should delude yourself into thinking that things are other than they are or suppress your emotions in order to appear "Stoic." What it does mean, though, is that you can do the hard personal work required to fundamentally change your understanding and outlook on the world in a way that truly and radically improves your life.
It's no accident that Stoicism has become popular in recent years. In a culture that seems to glorify victimhood and compels everyone you knew in high school to list their mental disorders on their social media profiles as if they were merit badges, Stoicism stands as an appealing and time-tested antidote.
Are you ready to change yourself and change your life? At StoicQuotes.com, we're building an ever-expanding (or, ahem, ever-becoming) library of resources with the hopes of helping you become your best self.