I started the year completing a twice-daily reflection in ‘The Daily Stoic Journal’. (I know, that’s a classic cliché of a resolution, but I already journaled daily so it’s ok. Small changes.) It is a diary put together by proponents of an ancient wisdom of Stoicism, a philosophy born, as far as we know, in Ancient Greece and endorsed by (nice) Roman Emperors such as Marcus Aurelius. It is fundamentally about self-control, clearer thinking, kindness, and discipline. Self-reflection is essential to clarify your thoughts and help you live a better and more meaningful life.
Each week, the journal has themes and prompts for thinking and writing. The opportunity is for morning and evening reflection, so you can bookend your days with a memo of your thoughts. I am generally sceptical of this kind of approach. I don’t, as a rule, like to be directed to think about something on a particular day when I might not be in the mood. But I thought I would give this a go because I was so impressed by the compiler of this journal, in some of his other works I have read recently (see recommendation at the end of this article).
This week’s thought-provoker is about what is in our control versus what isn’t, encouraging us to forbid external circles of influence to overlap with our own, thereby keeping us that little bit happier. In business, sagely and calm managers endorse the mantra “control the controllable” as a way of focusing the mind on stuff we can directly influence. It is a sound principle, especially when we consider all the macro events in our world such as Covid-19, inflation, house prices. issues we can do nothing about but spend a lot of our time bemoaning. If we target attention internally first on what we can control such as our choice of attitude to any situation, then we can reset to be happier. It also helps us focus on making more pragmatic decisions by putting first things first.
I woke up this morning to a fresh page with the question prompt “Who am I? What is my purpose in life?” So - saving the big topics until later, hey? Here is what I wrote: -
Who am I? I haven’t yet truly found out. I know who I would like to be. The reason I don’t know is that I tend to hide behind walls. To an extent, I use alcohol to become a different person and I use certain defences against society in the way I behave which become a filter, changing the hue of the image through the lens. The self that I experience is distorted, like light waves from air into water. The image you see is a virtual one, the real one is shifted over to one side. I use mindfulness to strip away the noise, like varnish off a coffee table, so that I can understand what is truly real inside my head. I need to see that person first before I change any course for the future and decide my true purpose.
I have been following Stoicism for a while, and think it’s a suitable companion to mindfulness, espousing awareness of thoughts, but also turning will into action. You don’t need to spend money on a journal loaded with questions, but just writing down thoughts is a good start. I like it because it sorts my head out, especially when I am knocked off my stride. I can begin by downloading my negativity, and then magic happens as I start to work through potential solutions. Couple this with a mindful practice that helps you distil thoughts and then see how it guides your actions. Your actions will decide who you are.
Recommended reading: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. He writes about reframing negativity to use barriers as a launchpad to be more positive. It's also about getting control of your own attitude. Not necessarily the theme of this specific blog but further reading nonetheless.