What do Oscar Wilde, Susan Sontag, Marcus Aurelius, John Quincy Adams, Anne Frank, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, Joan Didion all have in common?
It’s simple. They journaled. Often, if not every day.
Some did it in the morning. Some did it at night. Some captured moments of triumph, and others moments of pain and anguish (Theodore Roosevelt’s entry on the day he lost his wife and mother: “X. The light has gone out of my life.”) Whatever the method, whatever the language, they were journaling their innermost thoughts and working through their feelings.
The Stoics, as we have talked about here, many times, were avid journalers. It’s pretty incredible that Marcus Aurelius’s journal survives to us, and what’s even more incredible is the brilliance of what’s in it. As the American philosopher Brand Blanshard marveled about Meditations:
“Few care now about the marches and countermarches of the Roman commanders. What the centuries have clung to is a notebook of thoughts by a man whose real life was largely unknown who put down in the midnight dimness not the events of the day or the plans of the morrow, but something of far more permanent interest, the ideals and aspirations that a rare spirit lived by.”
The question is: Are you following his example? It’s wonderful to read about Stoicism and to study it. But Marcus and Seneca and Epictetus would also demand that you put out your own insights, that you physically wrestle with the ideas and principles of the philosophy with your pen. Not just every once in a while, but every day. To paraphrase and add to something Seneca once said: The thoughts should become words so that they might become works.
The Daily Stoic Journal is out today (in the US and in the UK). We hope you give it a try and hope you appreciate the design and the many features we’ve built into it (and the 52 new meditations included in it). But at the risk of spoiling the basic premise, we’ll give you the Stoic recipe for journaling right here right now:
1. Prepare For The Day Ahead: Each morning you should prepare, plan and meditate on how you aim to act that day. You should be envisioning everything that may come and steeling yourself so you’re ready to conquer it. As Seneca wrote, “The wise will start each day with the thought, ‘Fortune gives us nothing which we can really own.’” Or think of Marcus’s reminder: “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”
2. Put The Day Up For Review: Stoicism isn’t just about thinking, it’s about action—and the best way to improve is to review. Each evening you should, like Seneca did, examine your day and your actions. As he put it, “When the light has been removed and my wife has fallen silent, aware of this habit that’s now mine, I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by.” The question should be: Did I follow my plans for the day? Was I prepared enough? What could I do better? What have I learned that will help me tomorrow?
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