111 Stoic Quotes on Holding On

Updated November 24, 2022

As Kenny Rogers has been advising us since 1978, an important skill we need to learn in life is to “know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” In some life situations, it makes sense to endure difficulties and “hold on,” while in others, the best thing is to let go. These Stoic quotes on holding on can help you discern the difference between the two types of circumstances in your own life.

Is it time for you to move on from a relationship, job, phase in your life, or an idea about yourself? Or are you running away from a worthwhile challenge that will help you learn and grow?

Stoic Quotes on Holding On and Letting Go

It can be tempting to hold on to situations that weigh us down or are no longer useful. Heck, we can even hold on to things that aren’t even happening in the present anymore. We’re all guilty of fixating on a relationship that’s been over for a little too long or nostalgically wishing for a time period of life that has disappeared from the rear-view mirror.

Maybe we don’t want to let go of being a child in the eyes of our parents even though we are fully-grown adults now. Perhaps we are holding on to an idea of ourselves because we’re afraid we won’t know who we are if we drop the label we once held so dear.

There are a million potential ways we can hold on when it’s time to let go and just as many situations where we can run away when the right thing to do might actually be to buckle down and hold on.

“Whatever begins, also ends.”

– Seneca the Younger

“No man is free who is not master of himself.” 

– Epictetus

"If you want your children and wife and friends to live forever, you’re a fool, because you’re wanting things that aren’t within your power to be within your power, and the things that aren’t your own to be your own."

– Epictetus

“It is not the actions of others which trouble us (for those actions are controlled by their governing part), but rather it is our own judgments. Therefore remove those judgments and resolve to let go of your anger, and it will already be gone. How do you let go? By realizing that such actions are not shameful to you.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“In everything that pleases your soul, or supplies a want, or that you are fond of, remember to add this to your thoughts: what is the nature of this thing? If you are fond of a vase, say that it is a vase that you like, and nothing more — for when it has been broken you will not be disturbed. If you are kissing your child or wife, say that it is a human being whom you are kissing and nothing more — for when the wife or child dies, you will not be disturbed.”

– Epictetus

“Letting go all else, cling to the following few truths. Remember that man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant: all the rest of his life is either past and gone, or not yet revealed. This mortal life is a little thing, lived in a little corner of the earth; and little, too, is the longest fame to come - dependent as it is on a succession of fast-perishing little men who have no knowledge even of their own selves, much less of one long dead and gone.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Tell me the  secret which you possess.” I will not, for this is in my power. “But I will put you in chains.” Man, what are you talking about? Me, in chains? You may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can overpower. “I will throw you into prison.” My poor body, you mean. “I will cut your head off.” When then have I told you that my head alone cannot be cut off?”

– Epictetus

“The Fates guide the person who accepts them and hinder the person who resists them.”

– Cleanthes

“Sometimes you have to let go to see if there was anything worth holding onto.”

– Socrates

“Letting go is a necessary, if sometimes heart-wrenching gateway to genuine transformation.”

– Phil Jackson

“In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.”

– Deepak Chopra

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.”

– Herman Hesse

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free.”

– Nhat Hanh

“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”

– C. S. Lewis

“In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?”

– Gautama Buddha

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

– Laozi

“Nothing can drag you down if you're not holding on to it.”

– Tony Robbins

Quotes About Change and Loss

Are you holding on to something simply because you are afraid of what will happen if everything changes? Are you grasping a relationship or situation simply because it’s comfortable, even though it is holding you back from learning, growing, and living a good life?

Change can be terrifying. Loss can be devastating. However, these are both opportunities for us to put our Stoic virtues into practice and remember to accept fate and embrace the nature of reality.

marcus aurelius image and quote about holding on

"Everything is ephemeral, both that which remembers and that which is remembered."

– Marcus Aurelius

"Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight."

– Marcus Aurelius

“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

“There is change in all things. You yourself are subject to continual change and some decay, and this is common to the entire universe.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Keep constantly in mind how many things you yourself have witnessed changes already. The universe is change, life is understanding.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Does a man shrink from change? Why, what can come into being save by change?”

– Marcus Aurelius

“The whole universe is change and life itself is but what you deem it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.”

– Confucius

“In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”

– Max De Pree

“When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves.”

– Viktor E. Frankl

Stoic Quotes About Control

Sometimes we hold on to things because we feel like we need to be in control. The ancient Stoics knew, though, that there are many things in life that we can’t control, no matter how hard we try. If we direct our energy toward trying to be in control of external events, we are ultimately wasting our precious energy. Instead, we should turn our attention toward the things in our control and learn to accept the things that are not.

musonius rufus image and quote about holding on

“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

“We should always be asking ourselves: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?”

– Epictetus

"Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing."

– Epictetus

Quotes About Courage

Whether the right thing to do is to hold on or to let go, both actions take courage. Courage is one of the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism, along with temperance, wisdom, and justice.

marcus aurelius image and quote about holding on

“Get busy with life's purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue…”

– Marcus Aurelius

“A man cannot live well if he knows not how to die well.”

– Seneca the Younger

“It shows a brave and resolute spirit not to be agitated in exciting circumstances.”

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

“ Great men rejoice in adversity, just as brave soldiers triumph in war.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Dig deep; the water- goodness- is down there. And as long as you keep digging, it will keep bubbling up.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“The pressure of adversity does not affect the mind of the brave man. It is more powerful than external circumstances.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Live as brave men; and if fortune is adverse, front its blows with brave hearts.”

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

“You must vie with time's swiftness in the speed of using it, and, as from a torrent that rushes by and will not always flow, you must drink quickly.”

– Seneca the Younger

“A man of courage is also full of faith.”

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

“He who is brave is free.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Fire tests gold, suffering tests brave men.”

– Seneca the Younger

“...Nothing is so entirely admirable as a man bravely wretched.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

– Winston Churchill

“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”

– Aristotle

“I'll repeat something you might consider tattooing on your forehead: What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

– Tim Ferriss

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

– Muhammad Ali

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

– Mark Twain

Stoic Quotes About Reality

It can seem easier sometimes to delude ourselves about what is really going on in our lives. Maybe we are waiting around for our ex to “come to their senses” or pretending that our circumstances are other than they are.

Tapping into reality can be scary and difficult at first. Realizing that you have been lying to yourself or willfully delusional can feel overwhelming. However, with time, you’ll find that the clarity of understanding is a tremendous relief and allows you to make better decisions about the things you really are in control of.

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

– Epictetus

“Regain your senses, call yourself back, and once again wake up. Now that you realize that only dreams were troubling you, view this 'reality' as you view your dreams.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“A thing either is what it appears to be; or it is not, but yet appears to be; or it is, but does not appear to be; or it is not, and does not appear to be.”

– Epictetus

“Embrace reality. Think about what delights you - the small luxuries on which you depend, the people whom you cherish most. But remember that they have their own distinct character, which is quite a separate matter from how we happen to regard them.”

– Epictetus

“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.”

– Abraham Lincoln

“Few people have the imagination for reality.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“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

Quotes About the Present

When we hold on to something that is no longer useful to us or that has been over and done with for some time, we are living in the past. Keeping your consciousness in the weeks, months, years, or decades that preceded the present moment can never make you happy, and it will get in the way of your ability to live your best possible life.

seneca image and quote about holding on

“Life is divided into three periods: that which has been, that which is, that which will be. Of these the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Lay hold of today's task, and you will not depend so much upon tomorrow's.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Nothing is worth more than this day.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living.”

– Dale Carnegie

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

– Abraham Maslow

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

– Gautama Buddha

Quotes About Time

The ancient Stoics were well aware that many of the things we want to call our own are actually fleeting and impermanent. We might believe that we are in possession of many things– wealth, status, power, relationships… but all of these things can leave us at any given moment.

According to Seneca, “nothing is ours except time.” All we have is the present moment in which we can choose how we will think and act.

Simultaneously, sometimes we need time to pass in order to make sense of the things that have happened to us or that we have gone through. If you are struggling to understand an aspect of your life despite intense, honest efforts, it’s possible that the solution is giving it more time.

seneca the younger image and quote about holding on

“Nothing is ours except time.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Time discovers truth. Time heals what reason cannot.”

– Seneca the Younger

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

– J. R. R. Tolkein

“Time is more valuable than money. You can get more money, but you cannot get more time.”

– Jim Rohn

“Time is the coin of life. Only you can determine how it will be spent.”

– Carl Sandburg

“Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”

– Benjamin Franklin

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

– Dale Carnegie

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.”

– Steve Jobs

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”

– William Penn

“One today is worth two tomorrows.”

– Benjamin Franklin

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

– Charles Darwin

Stoic Quotes About Desire and Expectations

When we are holding on to things that no longer serve us, it is often because of our desires and expectations. Though the Stoics weren’t ascetics, they did see that people often expect that gaining certain things will bring them happiness when nothing could be further from the truth.

Instead of having an endless stream of desires and expectations that we chase after only to find that they don’t bring the satisfaction we imagined (and then rinse and repeat,) we can work to appreciate what we have right now and rid ourselves of the belief that our happiness is just one job, relationship, travel adventure, or new car away.

“The greatest wealth is a poverty of desires.”

– Seneca the Younger

“To get or not to get what we desire can be equally disappointing.”

– Epictetus

“Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul.”

– Marcus Aurelius

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

– Epictetus

“The greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends upon chance, and so relinquish a certainty for an uncertainty.”

– Seneca the Younger

“I can at once become happy anywhere, for he is happy who has found himself a happy lot. In a word, happiness lies all in the functions of reason, in warrantable desires and virtuous practice.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“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

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

– Seneca the Younger

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

– Epictetus

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

– Seneca the Younger

“Desire and happiness cannot live together.”

– Epictetus

“He is a king who fears nothing, he is a king who desires nothing!”

– Seneca the Younger

“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

“True peacefulness comes from abandoning the illustion that satisfying desires brings pleasure.”

– Joan Z. Borysenko

“Don’t allow your animal nature to rule your reason.”

– Rumi

“A desire arises in the mind. It is satisfied immediately another comes. In the interval which separates two desires a perfect calm reigns in the mind. It is at this moment freed from all thought, love or hate. Complete peace equally reigns between two mental waves.”

– Sivananda

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

– Aristotle

“Loosen the bonds of avarice from your hands and neck.”

– Rumi

“Manifest plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness, have few desires.”

– Laozi

Quotes About Perception and Mindset

Learning about Stoicism and incorporating it into your life can be truly revolutionary, and one of the most impactful lessons is the reality that you, in the words of Marcus Aurelius, “have power over your own mind.”

If you are holding on to something that you shouldn’t, it’s time to take a look at the thoughts and emotions you’re having about the topic. Auditing yourself in this way can be difficult at first, but you’ll soon find that it bears many fruits.

“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

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

– Seneca the Younger

“No one is ever unhappy because of someone else.”

– Epictetus

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

– Marcus Aurelius

"Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens."

– Epictetus

“You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn't exist anywhere except in the mind.”

– Dale Carnegie

“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

– William James

“It isn't what happens to us that causes us to suffer; it's what we say to ourselves about what happens.”

– Pema Chodron

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

– Gautama Buddha

Quotes on the Future

Are you afraid to let go of something because you’re scared of what the future will hold? Are you holding on to something because you feel that it must be a part of your future in order for you to be happy? The Stoics and other like-minded thinkers offer a lot of profound insight into the fact that the present moment is in our power, and that is, therefore, where we should turn our attention.

“Expecting is the greatest impediment to living. In anticipation of tomorrow, it loses today.”

– Seneca the Younger

“The greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our power, and look forward to that which depends upon chance, and so relinquish a certainty for an uncertainty.”

– Seneca the Younger

“I never think of the future - it comes soon enough.”

– Albert Einstein

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

– Mother Teresa

Stoic Quotes About Accepting Fate

The Stoics embraced a notion known as amor fati, which means “love of one’s fate.” It can be easy to see the things you deem as “good” in your life as gifts of fate, it is a lot more difficult to understand the more trying aspects of life as fateful and necessary as well.

The reality is, though, that many of the hardest things we will go through are actually our greatest opportunities to look inward, grow, and change for the better. This is where we find our strength– where we learn what we’re really made of. We find things out about ourselves that we didn’t know, and we grasp new understandings of reality that had previously escaped us. All of this information can help make us stronger, more courageous, and better able to respond when we are faced with difficulties down the road.

“Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.”

– Epictetus

“Something happens to you. Good. It was meant for you by nature, woven into the pattern from the beginning.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“That every event is the right one. Look closely and you’ll see. Not just the right one overall, but right. As if someone had weighed it out with scales.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it—not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“He does only what is his to do, and considers constantly what the world has in store for him—doing his best, and trusting that all is for the best. For we carry our fate with us

—and it carries us.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Hand yourself over to Clotho voluntarily, and let her spin you into whatever she pleases.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they're necessary to reach the places we've chosen to go.”

– Richard Bach

The wisdom of the ancient Stoics is truly inexhaustible– you will find that the words and ideas of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca, Musonius Rufus, and others are often profoundly applicable to just about any situation. For more inspiration and advice from some of the greatest minds in history, check out some more of our lists of Stoic quotes.

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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