116 Stoic Quotes on Focusing and Working on Yourself

Updated September 30, 2022

These Stoic quotes on focusing and working on yourself will help you remember that the only things you can control in life are your thoughts and actions.

In our busy world, it's all too easy to focus your energy on everything but improving yourself. You might be consumed by your work, worried about what other people think, or seeking pleasure through vices.

At the end of the day, though, a happy life can be found by focusing your energies on what you can change (i.e. what you think and what you do) and accepting the things you can't.

Stoic Quotes on Working on Yourself

Becoming the person you want to be doesn't happen overnight. The Stoics often said that a truly wise person is rare, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't focus our attention on being the best, most virtuous people we can be.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”

— Marcus Aurelius

epictetus image and stoic quote about doing what you have to do

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”
– Epictetus

“One that desires to excel should endeavor in those things that are in themselves most excellent.”

– Epictetus

"There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that's your own self."

– Aldous Huxley

"Those who seek a better life must first become a better person."

– Jim Rohn

"Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stoic Quotes on Building Habits

It's all too easy to spend countless hours wishing we were better, but the reality is that we improve ourselves by changing our habits and working a little bit every day towards being who we want to be. Remember, Stoicism is a practical philosophy, which means that its ideas are intended to be applied to your day-to-day life.

marcus aurelius image and stoic quote

“Give thyself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running . . . therefore, if you want to do something make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead. The same principle is at work in our state of mind. When you get angry, you’ve not only experienced that evil, but you’ve also reinforced a bad habit, adding fuel to the fire.”

– Epictetus

“Adopt new habits … Consolidate your principles by putting them into practice.”

— Epictetus

“Assemble your life… action by action. And be satisfied if each one achieves its goal… No one can keep that from happening…Action by action.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“Excellence withers without an adversary.”

— Seneca

“But what does Socrates say? ‘Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.'”

— Epictetus

“If your soul be habitually in practice, you will plead and teach, listen and learn, investigate and meditate. What more is necessary?”

— Seneca

“In the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit. Since all that I’ve said is the case, the person in training must seek to rise above, so as to stop seeking out pleasure and steering away from pain.”

— Musonius Rufus

“If you want to do something, make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead.”

— Epictetus

“Don’t go expecting Plato’s Republic; be satisfied with even the smallest progress.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.”

— Epictetus

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."

– Will Durant

"Watch your thoughts, they become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habit."

– Laozi

"Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition, is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have."

– Dale Carnegie

"A habit cannot be tossed out the windo; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time."

– Mark Twain

Stoic Quotes on Using the Time You Have

The Stoics (and Seneca in particular) talk a lot about how time is fleeting and that all we really have is the present. If you find yourself feeling like you don't have enough time to do what you want, a self-audit may be in order. We are all guilty of wasting time on things that don't matter to us, and you can likely find some space in your day to focus on improving yourself.

“The day has already begun to lessen. It has shrunk considerably, but yet will still allow a goodly space of time if one rises, so to speak, with the day itself. We are more industrious, and we are better men if we anticipate the day and welcome the dawn.”

— Seneca

"At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself, As a human being I have to go to work. Why am I complaining if I’m going to do what I was born to do – the things I was brought into the world to do? Is this really what I was created for – to snuggle under the blankets and stay warm? But, you say, it’s nicer here. I see, so you were born to feel nice, is that it? Not to do things and experience them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees all going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order as best they can? And you mean you’re not willing to do your part as a human being? Why aren’t you jumping up to do what your nature demands?"

– Marcus Aurelius

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

– J.R.R. Tolkein

"We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery."

– H. G. Wells

Stoic Quotes on Self-Growth

We live in a culture that seems to value comfort above all else, but it isn't actually comfort that helps us grow into our best selves. We can choose to try and be a little bit better every day. It might not seem like much at first, but as the days, months, and years pass, you'll find that challenging yourself to grow bears many priceless fruits.

“If you accomplish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures”

— Musonius Rufus

"The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice."

– George Eliot

"Don't bother just to be better than others. Try to be better than yourself."

– William Faulkner

"I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday."

– Abraham Lincoln

Stoic Quotes on Self-Awareness

The first step to making noticeable improvements in yourself is self-awareness. After all, if you don't watch your thoughts and actions, how can you change them for the better in the future?

I will keep constant watch over myself and — most usefully — will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil — that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.”

— Seneca

“We should every night call ourselves to an account: What infirmity have I mastered today? What passions opposed? What temptation resisted? What virtue acquired? Our vices will abate of themselves if they be brought every day to the shrift.”

– Seneca

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."

– Carl Jung

"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."

– Aristotle

"Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power."

– Laozi

"Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes."

– Carl Jung

"We must each lead a way of life with self-awareness and compassion, to do as much as we can. Then, whatever happens we will have no regrets."

– Dalai Lama

Stoic Quotes on Other People

One major reason that we don't focus on ourselves is the fact that we get caught up in the opinions of other people. It is natural to want the affirmation and validation of others, but it can also be a major obstacle and distraction.

It's important to remember that you can't change the way that other people see you, so it is fruitless to focus your energy in this way. Instead, focus on changing what you do have the power to alter: yourself.

“When another blames you or hates you, or people voice similar criticisms, go to their souls, penetrate inside and see what sort of people they are. You will realize that there is no need to be racked with anxiety that they should hold any particular opinion about you.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“If anyone should tell you that a particular person has spoken critically of you, don't bother with excuses or defenses. Just smile and reply, "I guess that person doesn't know about all my other faults. Otherwise, he wouldn't have mentioned only these."

– Epictetus

“Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do. Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you. Sanity means tying it to your own actions.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Be not diverted from your duty by any idle reflections the silly world may make upon you, for their censures are not in your power and should not be at all your concerns.”

– Epictetus

“We can't control the impressions others form about us, and the effort to do so only debases our character.”

– Epictetus

“As for others whose lives are not so ordered, he reminds himself constantly of the characters they exhibit daily and nightly at home and abroad, and of the sort of society they frequent; and the approval of such men, who do not even stand well in their own eyes, has no value for him.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Be careful whom you associate with. It is human to imitate the habits of those with whom we interact. We inadvertently adopt their interests, their opinions, their values, and their habit of interpreting events.”

– Epictetus

“ Associate with people who are likely to improve you.”

– Seneca

“Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.”

— Benjamin Franklin

"Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."

– Steve Jobs

"Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." 

– Eleanor Roosevelt

"The opinion which other people have of you is their problem, not yours."

– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Quotes on Focusing on Yourself

Stoicism has grown in popularity in recent years and one of the reasons for this is because of the life-changing notion that you should focus your energy on those things that you can control. According to Epictetus, the things you can control primarily consist of your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, actions, and reactions. Considering this, if you want to live a good life, you'll want to turn your focus towards yourself rather than all of the external events that lie outside your span of control.

“Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.”

– Epictetus

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

— Epictetus

seneca image and stoic quote

“You are your choices.”

– Seneca

“We all carry the seeds of greatness within us, but we need an image as a point of focus in order that they may sprout.”

– Epictetus

“Focus not on what he or she does, but on keeping to your higher purpose. Your own purpose should seek harmony with nature itself. For this is the true road to freedom.”

– Epictetus

“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“One whose chief regard is for his own mind, and for the divinity within him and the service of its goodness, will strike no poses, utter no complaints, and crave neither for solitude nor yet for a crowd. Best of all, his life will be free from continual pursuing and avoiding.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.”

— Epicurus

“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.”

— Winston Churchill

“No one saves us but ourselves / No one can and no one may.”

— Buddha

 “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I cannot always control what goes on outside. But I can always control what goes on inside."

– Wayne Dyer

Quotes on Self-Control

Self-control is an important part of working on yourself.

After all, there are so many things that vie for our attention every day-- so many things that claim to be the missing element that will make our lives complete. Whether your vice is social media, going to the bar a bit too often, or binge-watching mindless shows, self-control is essential to help you turn your attention towards becoming the person you want to be.

“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Does what's happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforward ness, and all other qualities that allow a person's nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"No man is free who is not master of himself."

– Epictetus

“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Which is recorded of Socrates, that he was able both to abstain from, and to enjoy, those things which many are too weak to abstain from, and cannot enjoy without excess. But to be strong enough both to bear the one and to be sober in the other is the mark of a man who has a perfect and invincible soul.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“If we were to measure what is good by how much pleasure it brings, nothing would be better than self-control- if we were to measure what is to be avoided by its pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control.”

– Musonius Rufus

"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self."

– Aristotle

"Not being able to govern events, I govern myself."

– Michel de Montaigne

"If you do not conquer self, you will be conquered by self."

– Napoleon Hill

"He who reigns within himself and rules passions, desires, and fears is more than a king."

– John Milton

Stoic Quotes on Living a Full Life

Do you want to live a full, happy life? If so, you have to grab it by the horns and choose to do so. Otherwise, you can end up on your deathbed realizing that you spent most of your time scrolling through social media or working a job you hate.

“We must take care to live not merely a long life, but a full one; for living a long life requires only good fortune, but living a full life requires character. Long is the life that is fully lived; it is fulfilled only when the mind supplies its own good qualities and empowers itself from within.”

– Seneca

marcus aurelius image and stoic quote about what we do now

“What we do now echoes in eternity.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Remember this - that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"Life is too deep for words, so don't try to describe it, just live it."

– C. S. Lewis

Stoic Quotes on Self-Respect

One of the greatest joys of working on yourself is that, over time, your respect for yourself will grow. As some of the wise humans quoted below mention, you will only gain the respect of others when you have respect for yourself.

“Think nothing profitable to you which compels you to break a promise, to lose your self respect, to hate any person, to curse, to act the hypocrite.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Find joy in simplicity, self-respect, and indifference to what lies between virtue and vice. Love the human race. Follow the divine.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“You will earn the respect of all if you begin by earning the respect of yourself. Don’t expect to encourage good deeds in people conscious of your own misdeeds.”

–Musonius Rufus

"Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life."

– Golda Meir

"Circumstance does not make the man. Circumstance reveals man to himself."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves."

– Dalai Lama

"Respect yourself and others will respect you."

– Confucius

Quotes on Improving Yourself– Starting Right Now

Are you addicted to self-help content but you never really put it into practice?

Don't wait for the perfect time to start improving yourself.

Instead, take the advice of the Stoics and other brilliant thinkers by taking steps right now to improve yourself and your life. Don't make excuses for the external events that make it impossible for you to be happy-- listen to Marcus Aurelius and start becoming a great soul right now!

epictetus image and stoic quote

“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals... How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer.”
– Epictetus

“Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible; life in a palace is possible; therefore even in a palace a right life is possible.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Waste no more time talking about great souls and how they should be, become one yourself!”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Whoever values peace of mind and the health of the soul will live the best of all possible lives.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it.”

– Epictetus

“To live happily is an inward power of the soul.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Withdraw to the untroubled quietude deep within the soul, and refresh yourself.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“The one thing worth living for is to keep one's soul pure.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“It is a shame for the soul to be first to give way in this life, when thy body does not give way.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“There is nothing more miserable and foolish than anticipation.”

– Seneca

“They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.”

– Seneca

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Stoic Quotes on Adversity Making You Stronger

If you haven't done much work on yourself in the past, you can find yourself in murky waters indeed. Though it may seem unpleasant to become aware of the ways you've thought and acted in the past, this is actually where the gold is hidden. Through this difficult journey, you'll find that you come out the other side stronger and wiser.

“The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”

– Epictetus

“We become wiser by adversity; prosperity destroys our appreciation of the right.”

– Seneca

"The wound is the place where the light enters you."

– Rumi

Quotes on Building Character

Your character is your thoughts, your values, your words, your actions-- basically, it's all of the things that make you who you are added up in a big bundle. The glorious gift that you will find as a part of your self-improvement journey will be that you step ever closer to the perfection of your own unique character.

“A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness.”

– Seneca

“Give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths.”

– Epictetus

“Imagine for yourself a character, a model personality, whose example you determine to follow, in private as well as in public.”

– Epictetus

“Each man's life is a kind of campaign, and a long and complicated one at that. You have to maintain the character of a soldier, and do each separate act at the bidding of the General.”

– Epictetus

“To adorn our characters by the charm of an amiable nature shows at once a lover of beauty and a lover of man.”

– Epictetus

“To live each day as though one's last, never flustered, never apathetic, never attitudinizing - here is the perfection of character.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Remember this - that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Your task is to stand straight; not to be held straight.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“I was once a fortunate man but at some point fortune abandoned me. But true good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“No one can long hide behind a mask; the pretense soon lapses into the true character.”

– Seneca

Stoic Quotes on the Importance of Role Models

No man is an island, and the people you are around can have a big impact on who you are. When you first start focusing on yourself, the whole process can feel overwhelming and chaotic. A good place to start can be to find role models that you genuinely look up to, and then ask yourself what qualities they have that you respect. From there, you can work to develop those qualities in your own self.

“One of the best ways to elevate your character is to emulate worthy role models.”

– Epictetus

“There is the need for someone against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler, you won't make the crooked straight.”

– Seneca

“Remember that you are an actor in a play, and that the Playwright chooses the manner of it: If he wants you to act a poor man you must act the part with all your powers; and so if your part be a cripple or a magistrate or a plain man. For your business is to act the character that is given you and act it well. The choice of the cast is Another's.”

– Epictetus

Stoic Quotes on Being Your Best Self

These inspiring quotes should help to give you the fuel you need to start working on yourself every day from here on out.

“A half-hearted spirit has no power. Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes. Average people enter into their endeavors headlong and without care.”

– Epictetus

“When your thoughts, words, and deeds form a seamless fabric, you streamline your efforts and thus eliminate worry and dread.”

– Epictetus

“Not every difficult and dangerous thing is suitable for training, but only that which is conducive to success in achieving the object of our effort.”

– Epictetus

When you actively engage in gradually refining yourself, you retreat from your lazy ways of covering yourself or making excuses. Instead of feeling a persistent current of low-level shame, you move forward by using the creative possibilities of this moment, your current situation.”

– Epictetus

“All human beings seek the happy life, but many confuse the means - for example, wealth and status - with that life itself. This misguided focus on the means to a good life makes people get further from the happy life. The really worthwhile things are the virtuous activities that make up the happy life, not the external means that may seem to produce it.”

– Epictetus

Stoicism as a Tool of Self-Improvement

Stoicism really is a practical philosophy that you can apply every day to your life. If you're interested in working on yourself and focusing on yourself, be sure to check out more inspiring Stoic quotes and articles on our ever-expanding blog.

Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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