How to be like Marcus Aurelius? The Habits that make an emperor

Marcus Aurelius is one of the most prominent names when it comes to Stoicism. He was a great emperor, thinker and philosopher who left us many “tips” on how to develop ourselves into stoics. Aurelius was inspired by Epictetus, and today he remains as the source of inspiration for many of us.

Who was Marcus Aurelius?

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor that ruled from 161 to 180 A.D. He was known as a philosopher king because he tried to apply the stoic teachings to his way of governing Rome, and most of all, in the way he lived his life.

He’s the emperor we see in the beginning of the movie Gladiator, but the story has no records that his son, Commodus killed him (as shown in the movie). Marcus Aurelius was a great warrior, who devoted his life to enlightenment without freeing himself from his duties to his country or people.

He had many kids, most of which died before him, just like his wife. Therefore, he knew suffering from his personal experience, but also managed to thrive in spite of it.

When young he had great masters, especially from Greece, who influenced his humanist view of the world. He followed Epictetus’ guidance to the letter. 

If you want to learn more about him, we would encourage you to read another article that goes into his life with great detail here


The emperor used to write in his notebook every day, no matter where he was. This is why each one of the writings holds the name of the place at the very end. Today, the compilation of these notes is now known as the book Meditations.

It’s important to mention that the original name had the reference “to myself”. Thus, we must observe two things from this scenario. First, his writings were not intended to anyone else. Second, he must have re-read his text and reflected on them quite a few times.

Practice makes perfect

Let’s search for the origins of Marcus Aurelius´ habits. Most of them came from Epictetus, who offers many habits that would help develop the stoic character. Among them, we find many quotes from the Epictetus below:

On Reflection: We need to regularly stop and take stock; to sit down and determine within ourselves which things are worth valuing and which things are not; which risks are worth the cost and which are not. Even the most confusing or harmful aspects of life can be made more tolerable by clear sight and choice.

On Studying yourself: Only the educated are free.

On Taking good care of yourself (body and mind): God has entrusted me with myself.

On Developing a grateful heart: He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

On Visualization and modeling: Imagine for yourself a character, a model personality, whose example you determine to follow, in private as well as in public.

On Practice: Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake in little things, and then proceed to greater.

Getting started

You need to take the first step to get anywhere you want, but first, define where you want to go. As Lewis Carol says: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. You don’t want to leave your fate to chance by taking the longest road or the wrong one. 

Use the modeling exercise to help you elaborate who you really want to be. From there, just start. Take time to think, meditate. Take notes of your thoughts and the feelings you’ve noticed within your self. 

To begin, all you need is a journal and a couple minutes a day. And if you skip a day, don’t let this discourage you. Just start all over again. 

Also, as Epictetus teaches in The Art of Living, don’t make it all about techniques, there are no 5 miraculous practices, our self-development depends solely on our way of responding to what concerns us.

And keep in mind that the first steps towards wisdom are the hardest most challenging ones. People will criticize and discourage you. You won’t see any instantaneous benefits, nor immediate gratification. Persist and you’ll acknowledge that it was all worth it.