I will keep constant watch over myself, and, most usefully, will put each day up for review.
When I don’t write in my journal, I forget. What I did and what I failed to do will be an afterthought until I repeat it again in the future.
For a time, I got tired of writing in my journal. It felt like I was writing the same things over and over. If I put something on my list and didn’t complete it, it would end up back on the list. I was making zero progress.
I should have kept writing it down. I should have kept on until I made the decision to do something about it. I could have completed it or found a way to break it down. Could have, but instead, I stopped one of the more important practices I should be doing.
How noble and good everyone could be if at the end of the day they were to review their own behavior and weigh up the rights and wrongs. They would automatically try to do better at the start of each new day, and …certainly accomplish a great deal.
How much farther along could we go if we put each day up for review? Not only would it make us better, but it would also allow us to better serve others, which happens to be one of the most important jobs we should be doing.
It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun.
A happy life. Seneca said it is only possible for the person who studies wisdom. Why is that? Wisdom may not make a person perfect, but it is the pinnacle at the top of the mountain. To study wisdom is to climb the mountain. And as it increases over time, the student learns to avoid foolish mistakes in both words and deeds.
Solomon also said the one who finds wisdom is happy, that her profits are greater than monetary wealth (Proverbs 3:13-15). Money comes and goes, but wisdom, once attained, doesn’t flee. It doesn’t fluctuate based on speculation, inflation, or corruption.
The acquisition of wisdom is a journey that improves and makes life endurable.
This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make noble ones. You must persevere, must develop new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a good inclination becomes a good settled purpose.
Daily reflection. One must take the time to measure progress. The most effective way is to do it daily. Is there a better way to do this self-examination than by journaling?
One of my favorite podcasts is Ben Greenfield Fitness, one of the best shows to learn about human optimization, ancestral living, and biohacking. Check out step #3 from Ben’s evening journaling practice.
As you breathe, for anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes, begin to visualize your day. During this time, I recommend you replay your entire day in your mind like a movie, watching yourself in the third person and identifying what you have done well, what you could have done better, and where you felt most self-actualized and connected to your purpose statement. Watching the character of yourself in your mind, in the third person, ask yourself what you aren’t rooting for the character to do, or wishing they’d done differently, or where they failed and learned. Ask yourself what you are proud of that character doing and how you really see them acting their best. Finally, ask yourself where that person seemed most “in the flow” and doing exactly what seems to be the very reason they are in the movie in the first place. As you play the movie in your mind, stop when necessary and write down in the journal what you have done well, what you could have done better, and when or where you lived your life’s purpose.
Examine yourself; scrutinize and observe yourself in divers ways; but mark, before all else, whether it is in philosophy or merely in life itself that you have made progress.
When I first began journaling, I would write down the events of the day. It was a non-value-added list of bullet points. After a while, I became bored with it as I was not reflecting on a deeper level. Now I try to look at the day from multiple angles. How did I perceive myself in those actions? How did others possibly perceive my actions? What actions brought my life closer to my goals in life? What did I do to not only improve my life but the lives of those around me? What were my good deeds and how can I improve on my bad ones?
Philosophy is no trick to catch the public; it is not devised for show. It is a matter, not of words, but of facts. It is not pursued in order that the day may yield some amusement before it is spent, or that our leisure may be relieved of a tedium that irks us. It moulds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone; it sits at the helm and directs our course as we waver amid uncertainties. Without it, no one can live fearlessly or in peace of mind.
The purpose of philosophy. It is the user’s manual on how we should live. Nobody cares whether I memorized the lawn mower’s user manual. But if it is their grass that I am cutting, they do care whether I can operate the mower. The same with philosophy. To quote others and study for the sake of knowledge only does no good. Henry David Thoreau said, “There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.” I must do more than just study philosophy, I must practice it. I must be a philosopher.
Countless things that happen every hour call for advice; and such advice is to be sought in philosophy.
Wisdom leads to making good choices. It leads to a happy life. Through daily reflection we can refine our choices in the hopes of preventing the bad ones. Those bad choices are available to us constantly. How do prevent them? We turn to our user’s manual. We turn to philosophy.
The rational part of you, your mind, has had enough. It makes an agreement with the emotional part you, your heart. The mind tells your heart, “We can’t keep going on like this. We were meant to do better.” The heart sees the logic. Together the mind and heart go to the body and informs the body of their decision. The body is in agreement, “Change must happen. So how are we going to do it?”
Step 1: The Prep Work
It begins the night before. Mind, heart, and body agree to go to bed at a decent time. They have to remember the events of the day, but they cannot let that impede their tomorrow. How do they (your three parts) do it?
-End the evening with a clean conscience. Anger must not be allowed when the sun goes down (Ephesians 4:26-27). The mind must be sober, the heart not hindered, and the body free of toxins. In other words, you need to be sober.
-Journal. There has to be some kind of reckoning. In order to make tomorrow better, today has to be accounted for. What went well, and what went wrong? This is a good time to note any items of gratitude. It is a time to consider how to make things better the next day. There has to be a plan.
-Go to bed with it on your mind. Visualize the best day. What does it look like? It may sound a little hokie to some but consider the words of Thomas Edison, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.” See it, request it, and pray for it.
Step 2: The Best Day Ever
The prep work is complete. The mind is willing. It has involved the heart. The heart has sent its nutrients to the body with a little side note, “Take this and go do what you were born to do.” The body revived by sleep, supported by mind and heart, will begin the day full of energy. When the body tires, the heart (soul) and mind (spirit) will give it wings to continue its mission.
The plan has been formulated. All that is left to do is to execute it. Do that, and it could be the best day ever. There may be obstacles and distractions. There always is. Deal with them accordingly and then get back to the mission.
The Next Night
Was it the best day? If not, no worries. You can always try again tomorrow. The goal is that every day gets better than the day before. In order to improve the next day, go back and do the prep work again at night. Repeat steps one and two over and over. You will eventually get there.
Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
What are you doing to own your faults? What are you doing to fix them? Benjamin Franklin says there are few that have the courage to do this. How true this is, but what if there was a simple daily habit that would assist you with this courageous feat?
When I left the Army, I knew writing was going to play a large part in my future. I imagined being a novelist. I thought I had these great ideas, but the act of getting those ideas onto paper turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined. Not only was I struggling with writing, I was also struggling with my transition to civilian life. It turns out that my life and my writing were very similar. I drifted along aimlessly in a murky fog.
In my darkest times, I would grab a piece of paper and begin to write. Essentially, these were letters to myself. They began with a question or a statement about the problems I was facing. As I kept writing and thinking, potential solutions would come to the forefront. I became a motivational writer for myself. It was on those pages I would tell myself, “I could make it. I could survive.”
In the last few years, my journaling has become a regular practice, both in good times and in bad. In order to advance in my practice, I have incorporated some practical tips from Tim Ferriss, Jim Rohn, and even from some ancient Stoic Philosophers. So what tip am I working on now? It comes from one of Seneca’s daily habits. Seneca would take time at the end of each day and examine what he had done and said. In my personal quest to live a more virtuous life, this idea of examining my day seems to be the most beneficial. Doing so gives me the opportunity to look at and address areas needing improvement. Did I make the most of the day? Did I live up to my own expectations in doing what is right? Did I practice the things I love to preach?
Using a journal as a daily habit to identify and fix your faults doesn’t seem courageous. But the practice will make you more aware of your day-to-day activities. When you stray from the path, you might be quicker to correct your course and get back on. When you err, you will have the courage to own it and correct it.
How few there are who have courage enough to own their own faults, or resolution enough to mend them. –Benjamin Franklin