I have intermittently used ‘The Daily Stoic’ and its counterpart journal to frame my mornings. Although I fell out of the habit of daily journaling for the previous 6 months, I have recently been called back to it.
There are a number of reasons why I have been called to return to and maintain daily journaling practice, and if a recommendation is desired, I would recommend the use of ‘The Daily Stoic’ as a template and catalyst for a journaling practice.
Journaling promotes routine.
Just like a breakfast cereal advert, it is important to start the day in the right way. For many, following the same actions each morning and evening provides a ‘book end’ that frames the day. It might be a coffee, a workout, or a journaling practice, but for people with unpredictable and busy lives, maintaining a routine amongst increasing entropy is a source of stability and constancy.
Right now I’m mixed between working in a hospital and working on academic papers from my home. Journaling is one of the few constants between these two jobs.
Journaling helps focus on our extrinsic tasks today, next week, month and in life ahead.
I have made lists to get stuff done since forever. It’s nice to lay things out clearly and to tick them off when they are done. Post-it notes work. So do the back of envelopes or receipts. Journals, nice and sturdy, have a bit more longevity than do paper scraps.
Some people swear by ‘Bullet Journals’ to keep track of constantly evolving work assignments and calendars – which although I haven’t made the habit stick, allows journals to be used to track real progress. Instead of menial tasks such as grocery lists, long term challenges such as fitness or work goals can be written down, and small steps of achievement en route marked. Achieving a greater goal is easier when broken down and with constant physical reminders when you check in with the journal each day.
For me, I write down where I’ll be, my key work tasks of the day, what work out I’ll do, and identify the boring admin-y tasks that need to get done as part of being an adult.
Journaling is a catalyst for insight.
Journals are often used to prompt and measure external progress, but they equally can document the progress of our internal development. Checking in each morning with some stoic philosophy (more below) is deliberate practice to improve the day. Reflecting in the journal in the evening is a time to properly deal with the day’s events, learning from what went well and what went less well. In doing so, we might discover what we enjoy and what we want spend time doing, or more importantly, what we don’t enjoy and don’t want to continue doing. I can’t claim that you will discover your purpose in life ( I certainly haven’t), but any improvements on the way to enlightenment are warmly welcomed.
Furthermore, there is an important psychological benefit to identifying, processing and filing thoughts away rather than leaving them scattered around our mental desks. It lends another sense of clarity – not in the existential purpose sense, but instead stops our minds hopping arounds the ‘could have, should haves’ and brings us more into the present.
I find this incredibly useful after working in the hospital. Many doctors are very critical of themselves and their work. Writing down three good things that happened that day makes me remember the positives in the face of many neutral and some negative events. The good things could be silly like a smiling patient, or be cool, like an ultrasound guided cannula, but these positive thoughts temper the thoughts of disaster. Writing down 3 good things genuinely helps my mind ‘leave’ work, so that when I get home my mind isn’t still stuck in the wards. It’s a cure for work>lifeitis.
Journaling is a safe space.
Stereotypically the remit of teenage girls, I and other males can report that journals are in fact a useful private and safe space to discuss tasks and inner thoughts. Use of journals and the promotion of insightfulness and consideration may continue to reduce this stereotype.
Honestly, the more I write, the more value it brings.
Journaling is an antidote to the pressures of the external world.
Journals can list and document the systematic dismantling of tasks. They can document increases in personal goals, physical and mental. They are therefore well placed as tools to develop our external selves – physical bodies and minds that the world sees. Journals are tools to fulfil the Western ideal – find challenges and knock them down in the name of progress.
But journals are also the antidote and counterbalance to external demonstrations of progress. Introspection, insightfulness and clarification of purpose and values are just as important as 5K times, biceps and career portfolios (if not more important).
I think it has special significance in medicine (but I would as it’s what I do). Applying to ‘the next stage’ almost always focuses on the external stuff that are also difficult to attain. E.g. Did you play sport at a national level? Have you had three papers published? No? Well, you suck! What this selection sieve misses is that although a bursting CV reflects a dynamic and hard working doctor, the productivity and success may not be borne out of a sustainable mindset. They might be burned out to the margins of their sanity. Having an insightful trainee that knows themselves and can perform with good mental health is much more valuable for the healthcare workforce (and ethical for all involved).
But why ‘The Daily Stoic’?
I’m going to call it TDS from now on.
For me, it was a recommendation from a person whom I respect. To their peers they are focused, successful and even-tempered. To my annoyance, they also have robust inner values and are motivated to pursue their own interests, rather than drift with distracting externalities and Instagram. People like this are few. If a daily addition of daily stoicism contributed to the successes of her inner and outer lives, I hope to develop the same habits too.
TDS itself is a book with daily entries, each day comprising a quote from stoic philosophy (Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus etc.) and a passage from the author, Ryan Holiday, that expands upon the ancient quote with relevance to modern life.
What’s striking is the ease with which the Stoic philosophy, thousands of years old, applies to the problems we experience in work, life or existentially in ourselves. Furthermore, the stoics named above were a political leader and thinker, an emperor and a slave, respectively, demonstrating the wide utility of this philosophy between seemingly different positions in life.
While TDS is not a journal, it is thought provoking. It could be read daily without a partnered journaling practice and I’m sure some benefit would be derived. Likewise, a journaling practice without stoic philosophy can help to organise thoughts. However, both daily TDS and journaling practices could easily be performed mindlessly – just skimming eyes over text, or scribbling superficial thoughts.
This is where the counterpart, ‘The Daily Stoic Journal’, comes in. It’s very simple. It’s a book, similarly sized, aesthetically matched, full of lines on which you write, but that importantly contains short questions pertinent to the day’s stoic reading. In my mind, it’s this question that is most valuable. When you have to answer a question, skimming the text isn’t good enough. Answering a question in the context of stoic philosophy forces you to go a bit deeper than you would if you were left on autopilot, waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Just like a catalyst in a chemical reaction, the journal component pushes us just a bit further to activate our minds and engage with the content of TDS book.
My current set up is this:
- Read the day’s entry from TDS.
- Write about what I think of the passage.
- Describe which tasks that I want to do today.
- Revisit the journal at bedtime to reflect.
If I went to work, I write down 3 good things that happened.
- Note my intentions of stuff to do for tomorrow.
Journaling drives positive routines and allows big personal goals to be broken down into small steps. Perhaps most importantly, it allows a daily time for reflection, introspection and personal development. I’ve chosen to use ‘The Daily Stoic’ for its Stoic values, which I think promote virtues and success in our modern world. The accompanying Journal multiples the value of the original text because, just as a to-do journal forces you to write, the TDS journal forces you to think.
As a medic in a busy world, suffering from the pressures of careers and the success of others, while also appreciating the value of cultivating strong inner values and interests, journaling is a no-brainer.