How Marcus Aurelius Cultivated His Mental Toughness

posted on: October 17, 2019
author: Anthony Pellegrino

Cultivate Mental Toughness like Aurelius

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Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of Rome in the 2nd Century, ruling from 161 to 180 A.D.

He is counted among the “Five Good Emperors,” and his reign marked the end of the Pax Romana, a two hundred year period marked by peace and stability in the Roman Empire.

Unfortunately for Marcus, his reign wasn’t a walk in the park.

During his time as Emperor, Rome suffered from devastating plagues, a massive war with the Parthian Empire, and the troublesome rise of Christianity that constantly threatened internal stability. These were all major challenges for even the wisest of Emperors.

Yet, in the face of these problems, Marcus never allowed himself to give way to fear, or stress, or irrational emotions. Instead, he cultivated mental toughness in himself with the help of daily contemplation on his Stoic ideals.

Like Marcus, we face daily challenges in life and in competition that have the power to make us emotional. We suffer setbacks and external events that can make us feel tremendous stress. If we give way to our emotional reactions we can’t perform at our best or make rational decisions.

We wrote another article all about how emotions are sabotaging your performance. You can read that here.

Victory in life and on the court is impossible without mental toughness.

Without a cool head, strength, resilience, and control over our thoughts, our true potential will forever remain outside our grasp. “The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts,” writes the Emperor.

It should come as no surprise that an Emperor of Rome would be well aware of the necessity of mental toughness, especially one like Aurelius.

In fact, Marcus is not only known to history as an Emperor of Rome. He is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers of the ancient world. His book Meditations is still held in high esteem to this day, thousands of years after its publication.

Aurelius composed the Meditations while away on military campaigns, and never intended to publish the work. He wrote it, instead, to himself. He wrote down all the Stoic ideals and virtues he believed were necessary for a wise and rational life.

Marcus would come back to his Meditations anytime he felt he needed the strength that Stoicism can provide. He would use this process of journaling and self-reflection to cultivate his mental toughness every single morning.

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Marcus was big on mental toughness, big on resilience. He had to be, he was head of state for the largest and most powerful political entity in the world. He was a leader to millions of people around the globe and responsible for matters of state and war.

The Emperor faced daily challenges that could cause his strength to falter, his mental toughness to slip.

Instead, he proactively cultivated mental toughness in himself so he could perform his duties to the best of his ability, so his decisions would be the wisest they could be, and that he could live his life in the best way possible.

He writes to himself:

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

If you have been neglecting your mental game you should seriously consider adopting a daily regimen of journaling and self-reflection.

Consider creating your very own book of Meditations. As we’ve written about before, developing a personal philosophy is an essential component in mental toughness, and there are numerous benefits to journaling about your performance.


Sign up for our online course to cultivate even more mental toughness exercises:

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Despite his imperial power, he was fully aware of how tough life could be. How much suffering comes with human life, especially life in the 2nd Century.

He reminded himself:

“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.”

Competition in sports will always involve external factors that will affect your performance. Take Marcus’ words to heart when you find yourself upset or distracted by these external factors. Remember that “you have power over your mind – not outside events” and bring your focus back to the most important point; the next one.

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We can learn a lot from the wise emperor. He knew mental toughness was necessary for himself and worked every day to cultivate it through contemplation of his ideals and self-reflection.

Not only should we read his seminal work of philosophy, but we should create our own book of Meditations so that we may live our days mentally tougher and wiser, just as he did.



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About the Author

Anthony Pellegrino is a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. He is currently studying to get his B.A. in Philosophy at Fort Hays State University. He works as contributor to Pulse Magazine and as a freelance content creator for several marketing agencies and brands. His writing is focused on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, politics, everyday life, and content marketing.

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5 responses to “How Marcus Aurelius Cultivated His Mental Toughness”

  1. Joe Barbarie says:

    This blog just went up a quantum level in awesomeness. The classical Stoics are some of the manliest dudes ever.

    If I may be so bold as to add on to this discussion, it would be to suggest further reading. Epictetus (an older Greek stoic) authored something called “Enchiridion”, which translates roughly as “Handbook.” It begins with the deathless line, “Some things are up to us; some things are not up to us.”

    • Brian Lomax says:

      Hey Joe, I am glad you enjoyed this post, and thank you for the reading recommendation. Incorporating this wisdom into our lives can improve our own circumstances and our performance. I hope to see you on the courts this winter.

  2. John Wilcox says:

    As always Brian these posts are well worth reading and reflecting on, not only for ourselves but should serve as a compass on our daily journey. Outside events and forces are either improved by our reactions to them or have little impact when we choose to look inward and cast them aside. We should cast aside the distractions. Thanks for the travel back to Rome.

    • Brian Lomax says:

      Hey John, thanks for reading. You are correct to point out all of the distractions that occur in sport, and our powerlessness to control them. Yet for some reason, we still try. Cast them aside and focus on what you can control. That is a huge part of mental toughness.

  3. Thank you! We appreciate the kind words, Joe. It’s funny that you mention Epictetus. As you might know, Epictetus was born a slave, so it’s interesting to think about how both he and Aurelius came to the same conclusions while being born into completely opposite backgrounds.

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