Part Six: Reflection
The final key idea I want to leave you with is the idea of reflection.
A fine reflection from Plato. One who would converse about human beings should look on all things earthly as though from some point far above, upon herds, armies, and agriculture, marriages and divorces, births and deaths, the clamour of law courts, deserted wastes, alien peoples of every kind, festivals, lamentations, and markets, this intermixture of everything and ordered combination of opposites. — Marcus Aurelius
An excellent Stoic exercise you can try is known as the view from above. I use one from Donald Robertson, that has been part of Modern Stoicism’s Stoic Week course. You can listen to a recording of Donald reading it on their website. It is a guided meditation in which you visualise yourself, and slowly zoom out from you sitting in your room to encompass the wider world. It helps to instil a sense of your place in the world and the bigger picture. It is an excellent way to wind down at the end of the day or give you a calmer perspective for the day if you listen to it first thing in the morning.
Stoics like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius would end their day by holding themselves to account, acting as their own judge and jury of their behaviours and actions.
I will keep constant watch over myself and — most usefully — will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil—that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past. — Seneca
Spend 5-10 minutes sitting quietly, with a notebook in hand and think back through your day. Note where you acted well, and where you didn’t meet your own standards. Make this a habit, and you will start to improve your behaviour.
Keep it simple and answer these 3 questions.
- What did I do well today?
- What could I have done better?
- What will I change tomorrow?
In case you think otherwise there are many days I fail but, like an athlete, I resolve to train better tomorrow. Being Stoic is an ideal to strive for.
Becoming a better person
Admiral James Stockdale (of the Stockdale paradox) in a conversation with Jim Collins said:
Well, you have to understand, it was never depressing. Because despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail—get out of this—but I would also prevail by turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger and better person.
Amongst other things, he had chosen to view his dire situation in the most positive way he could. This isn’t mere positive thinking, he goes on to say that it was the optimists who didn’t survive the prison camps. He embodies many of the Stoic principles covered in this series. So here now, be confident that you will prevail during these more trying times, but at the same time, we have to face some brutal facts that will change our lives. As Stockdale said, this could be the defining event of your life that will make you a stronger and better person.
If you have found the ideas and exercises in this article helpful, please consider sharing it with your friends and family.