Why You Should Learn to Journal Like the Stoics
Moral self-examination can lead to self-improvement
Journaling for self-improvement is nothing new. Daily reflection as moral self-examination goes all the back to ancient Greece and Rome. It was first described in a poem called The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, based on the doctrines of the famous sixth century BCE philosopher. The famous Stoic thinker Seneca wrote:
I make use of this privilege, and daily plead my cause before myself. When the lamp is taken out of my sight, and my wife, who knows my habit, has ceased to talk, I pass the whole day in review before myself, and repeat all that I have said and done. I conceal nothing from myself, and omit nothing. — From On Anger
And then there’s the most famous Stoic text of all, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, in which we have the philosopher-emperor’s own personal notebook — the product of similar reflections on his own character and actions. This is the great-grandaddy of most subsequent self-help and psychotherapy literature.
What Happens When You Go Full Stoic
A personal journey into one of the most popular philosophical movements of all time
Galen, the famous court physician of Marcus Aurelius, also describes this technique in a little-known book about philosophical therapeutics called On the Diagnosis and Cure of the Soul’s Passions. Galen recommends that each morning, we should prepare for the day ahead by imagining the contrast between acting in accord with wisdom and self-discipline on the one hand and being led by our irrational passions and desires on the other. What difference would it make if we followed the wiser path rather than simply going down the easier one? Planning our day ahead in this way can help us review how we’ve done later, before retiring to sleep.
The most famous Stoic teacher of all, Epictetus, wrote nothing. His words were transcribed and edited by a Roman citizen called Arrian of Nicomedia, who attended Epictetus’ lectures in Greece around 120 CE. Arrian was later appointed governor of Cappadocia (in modern-day Turkey) and assumed command of a provincial army. Arrian was, in other…