At the end of last year, I became interested in Stoic philosophy and found something in it that attracted me a lot – above all, the values it follows. In all humility: stoicism is not an end to be achieved in itself, it is a process, it is a path in which one strives for some form of perfection. I still have a long way to go, or to put it more accurately, this road will never end.
Interested in a lot of advice, I decided to try one of the Stoic exercises, often called a self-review, an examination of conscience, or a self-assessment. It is based on answering a pre-prepared set of questions to yourself every morning – all in written form. An example of such a diary is the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and one of the biggest Stoic philosophers. I’ve been doing it for more than two months now, and I decided to share my impressions because I think exercise has significantly changed my perspective on many things – it has changed me personally. There are some of my observations based on these two months:
I couldn’t focus
Beginning was difficult. I did not except that, because I had no problems with writing a lot of articles, news or even this blog. I started to write more during high school, and it was not an issue also but this time it was different. I suspect it because of specific topic: we have to write not about something we think about some items or based on other info, but make… yeah, self-review and “deep observation”. It was like my first attempts with meditation. Every second was so long and difficult, there were a lot of distractors in my mind and I did not know, what should I wrote. It was changed after few days, do not exactly when, but I think after just a week, I felt much better, it was fluent and smooth – completely as if my mind was already ready to put thoughts on paper.
Analog instead of digital?
I am a minimalist and really prefer to have less items than more – of course it does not mean, that I move “less items” above comfort & productivity, but in most cases, both are not in conflict. In effect, I read mostly ebooks (or listen to audiobooks), use digital to-do and notes app. Planned to use digital form for this self-review, but it did not work. It generated too many distractors, so I decided to move to analog form i.e. just simple paper notes and black pen. In the beginning, it was difficult, because I realized… I’ve become unaccustomed to handwriting! Yes, in last few years, my handwriting was only about some small notes, but nothing big, not full page or two in just few minutes. My handwriting has never been pretty, but this time it was really nightmarish – I wrote as if I was distracted, in a big hurry somewhere, unable to collect my thoughts. It was very strange and a bit “frustrating”, but fortunately gone after a few days. Of course, it is a clear signal for me, that I should handwrite more often because it will improve my ability to focus.
Awareness and benefits
The most question: what benefits my morning self-review has brought me? I think it is awareness, a lot of awareness. It may sound strange, but I think I am better prepared for everything. I have already used to have to-do list prepared the day before, but it is a completely different story. Creating list is one item, think more about it allows me to be prepared mentally for some turbulences. For example, I know, I will need to drive someone – just quick note about “small traffic jam is possible, I should not be nervous waiting, but just think about something pleasant” – and it works during day. You can prepare for a lot of items at the same time. Unexpected problems? A lot of noise from co-workers? Maybe technical issues? In effect of that, nothing is a real obstacle, it is just a temporary and opportunity to do something different.
I ask myself about what is dependent on me and what not, and it is a second gamechanger – in reality, we can not control most of items and this training emphatically makes us aware of it. It does not matter we should not do anything. For example, I have no influence on whether someone at the meeting will understand me and my needs, but I can do everything possible to make it easier so that communication is as good as possible. The final item, self-review is like checking milestones on our personal objectives. I know what I did wrong in last days, so I can improve some areas.
Have to write few items about that: such self-review worked fine for my only if I really focused on that. What does it mean? In my case, it is about spend some time alone, without other people (even my small daughter), without any music or enabled electronic near me – so I always try to do that before I start my computer and addle into a whirlwind of work. For me it doesn’t matter I will write self-review before or after breakfast and morning tea (btw. I do not drink coffee). Mentioned that, because saw some opinions, it’s better to do that after, with some more energy because it is required definitely also for mental work.
I will continue that
First of all, I decided to continue that. It requires just 10-15 minutes every day and it is much better to spend them on such self-review, than on something unnecessary in my situation (for example even quick look into social media). I have still a lot of things to improve, but it is an important step, especially from a self-awareness perspective.
Add more questions.
I consider adding more questions to morning self-review. There is nothing like “ready to use list”, because everyone must think about what is important and how can handle these items. Of course, there are some items which can be used by almost everyone, some examples:
- What awaits me today?
- What is dependent on me and what is not?
- What is the most important, what can wait?
- How can I improve my wellbeing, physical and mental condition?
- If there is something big and stressful, what is the worst scenario and how should I handle that?
Review after the day
If morning preparation has proved so valuable, why not also introduce an evening summary of the day? It is the second suggestion from stoic approach, but not only. Last time I read about something similar in “Chop wood, carry water” from Joshua Medcalf. Summary of the day can give us a lot of good things. First, it allows to list all good things we did – to not forget about them, to notice them, to remember, even if something was not fine, day was probably still great. We can use it as a reminder of who we want to be and how we want to achieve that. Also, it’s a great opportunity to notice our problems, “absolve yourself” and have the notes ready…. For the next morning to know what to improve in yourself