The Most Important Virtue in Stoicism and How to Practice it

Stoicism is a fantastic philosophy to lead a greater life and to better manage negative emotions. Stoicism has a sort of “honor code” with many principles and virtues that lead you in the right direction. Virtues are marks of excellence, character traits that lead to a better life.

The four virtues in stoicism are wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. 

What is the most important virtue?

Courage is the most important virtue because it is the precursor to all other virtues. Courage is the ability to face one’s fear, and fear is the obstacle of progress. Thus, courage is the most important virtue because it allows you to face your fears, make progress, and cultivate more virtue. 

What is Courage?

Courage, put simply, is the ability to face your fears. However, the true definition is much more complex than that. Courage is the ability to understand fear, to understand the workings of the mind, and to navigate the mind effectively. 

Understanding Fear

Fear is the drive to avoid something so that you can limit pain. Our fear instincts are complex and work to help us survive and avoid negative situations. However, the way that the brain computes fear is often too instinctual, leading us to do things that we shouldn’t, or not do things that we should. 

We eat processed food because our bodies have learned to maximize sugar, fat, and salt, and we subconsciously fear more healthful foods because we are afraid they may cause us starvation. 

We don’t talk to that guy or girl because we’ve been programmed by nature to fear strangers, as in the past a stranger could have killed us. However, nowadays we need to get more “loose ties” friendships to thrive in our society. 

We become mean, angry, impulsive, and selfish because we fear that if we do not fend for ourselves, we will die or be betrayed. 

The Fear of Progress

The most prevalent fear in our daily lives, however, is not just a survival instinct. It is a maladaptive trait that often leads us down the wrong path. This trait is the fear of progress. The fear of progress is the killer of man, the provider of comfort, and the mind’s betrayal of itself. We fear progress for a multitude of reasons, many of which also being fears. We fear progress because we fear the unknown, social situations, healthy choices, death, and even social isolation. 

Progress brings new environments, new relationships and new responsibilities; in today’s abundant and comfortable society, these new things are uncomfortable, not necessary for survival, and thus, feared. We fear these things because we already have our survival necessities, and we don’t want to be uncomfortable or take on increased responsibility. 

How Courage Creates an Excellent Life

The fear of progress can only be overcome with courage. As stated above, we fear progress because we naturally fear the unknown. If we do not come equipped to the journey of life with the courage necessary to face the unknown, we will not progress. Discomfort builds courage and also challenges it. When you’re uncomfortable, you need to be courageous enough not to break down, to learn, to grow, and to progress. Facing fear is the key to progress, and the key to facing fear is courage. Thus, courage equals progress. 

Courage is Necessary for Other Virtues

Without courage, you will never be able to achieve other virtues because you need to face the fear of progress.


Imagine that you want to start implementing moderation in your life, say, cutting back on caffeine, but you don’t have the courage to face the withdrawals. You will never be able to implement moderation if you can’t face your impulses. Impulses bring with them anxiety, and courage is needed to effectively counter that anxiety. 


Imagine that you want to implement justice into your life. You want to discipline your mind, your morals, and become honest. Without courage, you will not have the ability to speak nor think the truth. With courage, you can accept the possible consequences of truth and reap the benefits of it.

Implementing justice can and will be a hard and anxiety-provoking task, but it is possible to live the truth through courage. 


The pursuit of wisdom is also impossible without the cultivation of courage. Wisdom is the ability to love, understand, and embody truth, and in order to uncover the truth, you must have humility. Humility is the ability to accept that you are wrong, or you may be biased. Bias is the tendency that we all have to think untruthfully and wrongly.

For example, consider a political extremist that believes that harming another country is serving a god in some way. These people obviously are wrong from many people’s perspectives, but to themselves, they’re right 100%. They are biased toward themselves, and we are biased against them.

The person with humility would question bias on both sides and try to understand the matter without trying to take a side, and it takes courage to do this within such a two-sided world.

The person who values wisdom would likely conclude that the political extremist is relatively wrong through the questioning of their biases, but would more deeply understand the inner workings of that type of person’s mind. 

Not having humility, being closed-minded, and being biased is a symptom of cowardice. It takes courage to face the mind’s tendency to be biased, and thus, it takes courage to acquire wisdom. 

To attain wisdom, justice, and moderation, one must be courageous enough to face the fear of progress, and the complications of the mind. In order to become profoundly virtuous, you must become plentifully courageous. 

How to Cultivate Courage

Your Ability to Practice it. Courage=Courage

Cultivating courage boils down mostly to your ability to practice it. If you do not put yourself in situations that require courage, you will never find it. 

The truth is, we all have a hero inside us. We have a holy grail of confidence and bravery just waiting to be brought to the surface. We are often just too afraid to let it express itself or are too afraid to put ourselves in demanding situations. The hero inside of us is there, we just can’t see it, although; it’s waiting to be expressed at every moment.

Courage requires a great deal of courage. In order to let the hero shine, we need to put ourselves in tough situations. Often, uncomfortable situations bring out the best in us. In Cal Newport’s Deep work, he brings up an anecdote that I found fascinating. 

Cal Newport’s Anecdote

Newport describes that there was once a science writer who developed a severe form of cancer. She said that the cancer was trying to “monopolize” her attention and steal her life from her. However, she focused hard on not letting the disease do so, and she instead focused on living her life well, and doing things she enjoyed.

This same person concluded that in order to live a meaningful life, you must effectively manage and guide your attention. When you use your attention deeply, you find meaning, responsibility, flow, and unmistakably, courage. 

The same argument can be made about courage as well. When she was at her peak, dealing with her own mortality, she needed courage to be able to guide her attention so effortfully yet gracefully. She needed courage to wake up and be able to sleep the following night. She needed courage to let herself be happy. 

Let The Hero Out

Cultivating courage takes courage. If you want to be courageous, you have to take responsibility for your courage and let the hero out. You need to let it flow from you, because it is inside all of us, just waiting to be expressed. You need to put your inner hero in demanding situations that call to action the courage necessary to thrive, and you will reap the rewards.

When you apply courage, and you apply voluntary discomfort, your courage gains will skyrocket. Your hero will no longer be a subconscious, unexpressed entity in your mind, your hero will merge with yourself. Courage will turn you into a hero so long as you are brave enough to let the hero shine. 

Voluntary discomfort

A practical way to cultivate courage is to put yourself in situations that are uncomfortable, stressful, and anxiety provoking. 

This is an ancient practice in which Seneca the stoic popularized through his writing. He wrote, 

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?” (Letter to Lucillius)

Seneca would go out in his worst clothing, often just dirty robes in order to practice courage. He understood that through continual exposure to a stimulus, you adapt to it. Put in simple terms, when you practice being uncomfortable, you become comfortable being uncomfortable.

And what happens when you become comfortable being uncomfortable? Your hero shines. You become courageous and your self merges with confidence and bravery. 

It is worth mentioning that modern psychology has put this concept into psychological terms. Cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and the behaviorist perspective in general uses the concept of voluntary discomfort to get patients over their fears and live better lives. Taking a mild example, if one is afraid of spiders, increasing exposure to spiders over time will lead to adapting to spiders, and thus, the fear will extinguish. 

The reason why this technique is used in psychology is because it works. The stoics were right about putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, because they understood that it brought out our innate bravery. 

Practice voluntary discomfort, become virtuous, and let your hero shine. 

Thanks for reading,


Recommended Resources (Courage)

Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday

A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

Published by Mason

Self help junkie

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