108 Stoic Quotes About Self Control

Updated October 17, 2022

The ancient Stoics taught that we can overcome destructive emotions by developing fortitude and self-control. These Stoic quotes about self-control help us understand how we can control our own minds in order to lead a more virtuous and happy life.

Self-control and discipline aren't just about applying temperance or abstinence to earthly desires like food, alcohol, and material objects, but also about exercising our control where it actually has power: namely, over our thoughts and actions.

Marcus Aurelius Quotes About Self Control

We have Marcus Aurelius to thank for a significant portion of our modern understanding of ancient Stoicism through his Meditations. This work wasn't written to be published, but instead was the personal journal of this great man.

Some of Aurelius' most famous quotes from this text have to do with self-control-- primarily the ability for us to control our own thoughts and therefore have a huge impact on the lived experience of our day-to-day lives.

marcus aurelius image and quote about self control

'We should discipline ourselves in small things, and from these progress to things of greater value.''

– Marcus Aurelius

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

– Marcus Aurelius

"How to act: never under compulsion, out of selfishness, without forethought, with misgivings."

– 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

"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

"If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment."
– Marcus Aurelius
"Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking."
– Marcus Aurelius
"The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts."
– Marcus Aurelius
"Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears."
– Marcus Aurelius
"Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future."
– Marcus Aurelius

Epictetus Stoic Quotes About Self Control

The great Epictetus showed remarkable consistency in his writings about Stoic philosophy and how to apply it to life. One of his primary teachings was that all external events are beyond our control, but we are responsible for our actions, mindset, and thoughts.

Through rigorous self-discipline, Epictetus taught, we can examine and control these things that fall under our control. We can also learn how to accept all external events dispassionately and calmly.

epictetus image and quote about self control

"Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire."

– Epictetus

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

– Epictetus

"Practice yourself, for heaven's sake, in little things, and thence proceed to greater."

– Epictetus

"So you wish to conquer in the Olympic Games, my friend? And I, too... But first mark the conditions and the consequences. You will have to put yourself under discipline; to eat by rule, to avoid cakes and sweetmeats; to take exercise at the appointed hour whether you like it or not, in cold and heat; to abstain from cold drinks and wine at your will. Then, in the conflict itself you are likely enough to dislocate your wrist or twist your ankle, to swallow a great deal of dust, to be severely thrashed, and after all of these things, to be defeated."

– Epictetus

"No greater thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen."

– Epictetus

"The flourishing life cannot be achieved until we moderate our desires and see how superficial and fleeting they are."

– Epictetus

"He is free who lives as he wishes to live; who is neither subject to compulsion nor to hindrance, nor to force; whose movements to action are not impeded, whose desires attain their purpose, and who does not fall into that which he would avoid."

– Epictetus

"Learn to distinguish what you can and can't control. Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires and the things that repel us. They are directly subject to our influence."

– Epictetus

"Desire and happiness cannot live together."

– Epictetus

"Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth."

– Epictetus

Seneca Stoic Quotes About Self Control

Much like Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, Seneca the Younger wrote about the relationship between self-control and a good, virtuous life.

Long before modern psychology, Seneca was well aware of the impact that desire and emotions have on our lives. His appreciation of just how damaging uncontrolled anger can be is quite profound, to say the least.

The Stoics were not ascetics-- they didn't advocate that we lead a life of complete abstinence. Instead, they taught the cardinal virtue of moderation, which can rightly be considered to be a more difficult thing to obtain than complete abstinence.

Interestingly, Seneca even suggests that people get drunk from time to time "not so as to drown, but merely to dip ourselves in wine, for wine washes away troubles and dislodges them from the depths of the mind and acts as a remedy to sorrow..."

seneca image and quote about self control

“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.”

– Seneca

“The question has often been raised whether it is better to have moderate emotions, or none at all. Philosophers of our school reject the emotions; the Peripatetics keep them in check. I, however, do not understand how any half-way disease can be either wholesome or helpful.”

– Seneca

"Enjoy present pleasures in such a way as not to injure future ones."

– Seneca

"Hold fast, then, to this sound and wholesome rule of life-- that you indulge the body only so far as is needful for good health."
– Seneca

"And as long as nothing satisfies you, you yourself cannot satisfy others."

– Seneca

"Our life should observe a happy medium between the ways of a sage and the ways of the world at large; all men should admire it, but they should understand it also."

– Seneca

“Who does not admit that all the emotions flow as it were from a certain natural source? We are endowed by Nature with an interest in our own well-being; but this very interest, when over indulged, becomes a vice. Nature has intermingled pleasure with necessary things — not in order that we should seek pleasure, but in order that the addition of pleasure may make the indispensable means of existence attractive to our eyes. Should it claim rights of its own, it is luxury. Let us therefore resist these faults when they are demanding entrance, because, as I have said, it is easier to deny them admittance than to make them depart.

– Seneca

"The heart is great which shows moderation in the midst of prosperity."

– Seneca

"That moderation which nature prescribes, which limits our desires by resources restricted to our needs, has abandoned the field; it has now come to this -- that to want only what is enough is a sign both of boorishness and of utter destitution."

– Seneca

"Everything that exceeds the bounds of moderation has an unstable foundation."

– Seneca

“I wish to instruct you in how passions get started, develop, and reach the point of exasperation. The first movement is involuntary, and it is like a preparation, or a threat, by the passion; the second movement is voluntary and controllable, and it consists in thinking that vengeance is necessary, because I have been offended, or that someone has to be punished, because he has offended; the third movement is arrogant, it does not want vengeance because it is necessary, but because it wants it, it has already annihilated reason. We cannot avoid the first impulse by reason, in the same way as we cannot avoid those physical reactions I mentioned earlier, yawning when others yawn, or closing our eyes when someone suddenly points a finger at them: these things cannot be overcome by reason; perhaps they may be attenuated by habit, or a constant attention. But the second movement, the one that springs from deliberation, is also countered by deliberation.”

– Seneca

"A well-governed appetite is a great part of liberty."

– Seneca

Musonius Rufus Quotes About Self Control

Though Musonius Rufus is often overlooked in favor of the more well-known Stoic philosophers, he offers a lot of sound advice about self-control and discipline.

This well-respected philosopher during his own life was exiled a number of times, which contributed to his philosophy and understanding that hardship strengthens the soul.

Rufus believed that humans had the same virtues as the divine, and the best virtues are intelligence, justice, courage, and self-control.

Let's look at some of his greatest quotes about self-control and discipline.

musonius rufus image and quote about self control

“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

“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
"In our control is the most beautiful and important thing, the thing because of which even the god himself is happy— namely, the proper use of our impressions. We must concern ourselves absolutely  with the things that are under our control and entrust the things not in our control to the universe."
– Musonius Rufus
“To accept injury without a spirit of savage resentment-to show ourselves merciful toward those who wrong us-being a source of good hope to them-is characteristic of a benevolent and civilized way of life.”
– Musonius Rufus
“Others have been in poor health from overindulgence and high living, before exile has provided strength, forcing them to live a more vigorous life.”
– Musonius Rufus
“We will train both soul and body when we accustom ourselves to cold, heat, thirst, hunger, scarcity of food, hardness of bed, abstaining from pleasures, and enduring pains.”
– Musonius Rufus
“What good are gilded rooms or precious stones-fitted on the floor, inlaid in the walls, carried from great distances at the greatest expense? These things are pointless and unnecessary-without them isn't it possible to live healthy? Aren't they the source of constant trouble? Don't they cost vast sums of money that, through public and private charity, may have benefited many?”
– Musonius Rufus
“We should not use philosophy like a herbal remedy, to be discarded when we're through. Rather, we must allow philosophy to remain with us, continually guarding our judgments throughout life, forming part of our daily regimen, like eating a nutritious diet or taking physical exercise.”
– Musonius Rufus
“Since I say that this is the case, the person who is practicing to become a philosopher must seek to overcome himself so that he won’t welcome pleasure and avoid pain, so that he won’t love living and fear death, and so that, in the case of money, he won’t honor receiving over giving.”
– Musonius Rufus
“In order to protect ourselves we must live like doctors and be continually treating ourselves with reason.”
– Musonius Rufus

Stoic Quotes About Discipline and Habits

When you work to foster self-control and discipline in your life, you are building new habits that will allow you to lead a more pleasant and virtuous life. Let's look at what the ancient Stoics had to say about these topics, as well as other great Stoic-minded figures throughout history.

zeno of citium image and quote about self control

"Man conquers the world by conquering himself."

– Zeno of Citium

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I'm going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

– Marcus Aurelius

"The reason why we have two ears and only one mouth is that we may listen the more and talk the less."

– Zeno of Citium

"To things which you bear with impatience you should accustom yourself, and, by habit you will bear them well."

– Seneca the Younger

"When someone is properly grounded in life, They should not have to look outside themselves for approval”.

– Epictetus

"You must build up your life action by action and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible and no one can keep you from this.’’

– Marcus Aurelius

"Every habit and faculty is preserved and increased by correspondent actions, as the habit of walking, by walking; of running, by running."

– Epictetus

"Don't give small things more time than they deserve."

– Marcus Aurelius

"Steel your sensibilities, so that life shall hurt you as little as possible."

– Zeno of Citium

"To make anything a habit, do it; to not make it a habit, do not do it; to unmake a habit, do something else in place of it."

– Epictetus

"If you do not wish to be prone to anger, do not feed the habit; give it nothing which may tend to its increase."

– Epictetus

"Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible."

– Marcus Aurelius

"What is a good person? One who achieves tranquillity by having formed the habit of asking on every occasion, "what is the right thing to do now?"

– Epictetus

"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

"As far as you can, get into the habit of asking yourself in relation to any action taken by another: "What is his point of reference here?" But begin with yourself: examine yourself first."

– Marcus Aurelius

"Nothing is in reality either pleasant or unpleasant by nature but all things become so through habit."

– Epictetus

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

– Will Durant

"Watch your actions, they become your habits."

– Winston Churchill

"Be careful what you choose to do consciously, for unless your will is very strong, that is what you may have to do repeatedly and compulsively through the habit-influencing power of the subconscious mind."

– Paramahansa Yogananda

"It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them."

– Benjamin Franklin

"Do something every day that you don't want to do; this is the golden rule for acquiring the habit of doing your duty without pain."

– Mark Twain

"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 window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time."

– Mark Twain

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."

– Aristotle

Other Stoic Quotes About Self Control

Finally, let's look at a collection of quotes from everyone from the Buddha and Gandhi to Jim Rohn and Emerson to gather more inspiration about developing self-control in our lives.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.”

– Jim Rohn

“It is better to conquer self than to win a thousand battles.”

– Buddha

“Mastering others is strength.  Mastering yourself is true power.”

– Lao Tzu

“If the self-discipline of the free cannot match the iron discipline of the mailed fist-in economic, political, scientific and all other kinds of struggles as well as the military-then the peril to freedom will continue to rise.”

– John F. Kennedy

“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage."

– Thucydides

“Rule your mind or it will rule you. ”

– Horace

“For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories. ”

– Plato

“True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline.”

― Mortimer J. Adler

“A disciplined mind leads to happiness, and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering.”

– Dalai Lama

“We must all suffer one of two things:  the pain of discipline or the pain of regret and disappointment.”

– Jim Rohn

"A man makes inferiors his superiors by heat; self-control is the rule. Anger is an uncontrollable feeling that betrays what you are when you are not yourself. Anger is that powerful internal force that blows out the light of reason. Know this to be the enemy: it is anger, born of desire."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

"As we grow older, we live more coarsely, we relax a little in our disciplines, and, to some extent, cease to obey our finest instincts. But we should be fastidious to the extreme of sanity, disregarding the gibes of those who are more unfortunate than ourselves."

– Henry David Thoreau

“Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.”

– John C. Maxwell

"The one quality which sets one man apart from another- the key which lifts one to every aspiration while others are caught up in the mire of mediocrity- is not talent, formal education, nor intellectual brightness - it is self-discipline. With self-discipline all things are possible. Without it, even the simplest goal can seem like the impossible dream."

– Theodore Roosevelt

"The art of conversation, or the qualification for a good companion, is a certain self-control, which now holds the subject, now lets it go, with a respect for the emergencies of the moment."

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is no magic wand that can resolve our problems. The solution rests with our work and discipline. ”

– Jose Eduardo dos Santos

"That aim in life is highest which requires the highest and finest discipline."

– Henry David Thoreau

"The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize that we ought to control our thoughts."

– Charles Darwin

“He who cannot obey himself will be commanded. That is the nature of living creatures.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

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

– Aristotle

"Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society."

– Benjamin Franklin

"With self-discipline most anything is possible."

– Theodore Roosevelt

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

– Wayne Dyer

“What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do.”

– Aristotle

"Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself."

– Elie Wiesel

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

– Lao Tzu

“You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself…the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. …And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.”

– Leonardo da Vinci

"Success has less to do with what we can get ourselves to do and more to do with keeping ourselves from doing what we shouldn’t."

– Kenneth Cole
"Self-disciplined begins with the mastery of your thoughts. If you don't control what you think, you can't control what you do. Simply, self-discipline enables you to think first and act afterward."
– Napoleon Hill

"The cyclone derives its powers from a calm center. So does a person."

– Normal Vincent Peale

"Prudent, cautious self-control is wisdom's root."

– Robert Burns

"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

"Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character."

– Calvin Coolidge

"Not to have control over the senses is like sailing in a rudderless ship, bound to break to pieces on coming in contact with the very first rock."

– Mahatma Gandhi

"What is self-control? It is nothing but a highly developed vital sense, dominating and regulating the mere appetites. To overlook the very existence of this supreme sense; to miss the obvious inference that it is the quality that distinguishes the fittest to survive."

– George Bernard Shaw

"Goals on the road to achievement cannot be achieved without discipline and consistency."

– Denzel Washington

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

– John Milton

"He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still."

– Lao Tzu

"If we do not discipline ourselves the world will do it for us."

– William Feather

"Rule your mind or it will rule you."

– Horace

"We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort."

– Jesse Ownes

Are you searching for more inspirational and genuinely useful quotes? Be sure to check out our blog with tons of Stoic quotes about just about every topic you could imagine.

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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This website provides the best stoic quotations on the topics of life, death, control, anxiety, and wisdom in general.

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