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Seven Journaling Habits That Stoicism Helps Us With

Journaling can relieve stress, help us develop, and so much more.

By Sam H ArnoldPublished about a year ago 6 min read
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Journalling has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Hidden in a cupboard in my bedroom are journals that date back to when I was eleven. Then my problems were simple; my friend doesn't like me.

As we grow older, our problems become more severe and in-depth. However, this does not mean that journalling cannot help decrease stress and improve your life.

The three most famous Stoics were Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca. One was the Emperor, one an enslaved person and the other a playwright. What these three great thinkers had in common was that they all kept a journal.

Here are the lessons that their practice has taught us and how I use these simple techniques to improve my productivity and mental health whilst publishing content regularly.

Prepare in the morning

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 - Marcus Aurelius.

We have all met that person who ruins the whole day. I spent four years working with one. This is where journaling can help.

Start the day preparing for what is to come. Is there a meeting that you are dreading? Then write about it. Why are you anxious about the meeting? Stare this problem in the face through your journaling. You will be surprised how quickly it reduces your anxiety.

Write down the worst-case scenario for everything that is worrying you. My brain always works overtime. I will be late; they will fire me from my job, and then I will lose my house.

These are thoughts I have had many times. By writing them down in my journal, one of two things happens. I either realise that they are absurd and never going to happen, or I have a plan B when they do happen.

Keep it to yourself

Julia Cameron speaks about this concept in her book The Artist Way. In it, she suggests that you write three pages of brain dump every morning to deal with anxiety.

Morning pages don't always work for me, but there are thousands of creatives it has worked for. The one theme Cameron and the Stoic Philosophers have in common is that they both suggest you write freely, knowing no one will read the work.

As writers, we constantly try to catch the grammatical error, the spelling error, or part that does not flow. This does not matter in a journal. No editor will shake their heads at your use of the Oxford comma.

Journalling is complete freedom to create without the restrictions of structure and style. The best type of self-help. You might want to take this one further and not even read it back for complete freedom from embarrassment and shame.

But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. - Virginia Woolf

Repeat the most important things

Daily mantras sound like the most ridiculous thing on the planet. In truth, you do feel pretty stupid repeating the exact phrases every morning. But, as idiotic as they seem, they work.

Repeating anything, whether it is habits you want to adopt, or a feeling you want to inspire. For example, say to yourself every morning; I am going to be a top writer. The more you say it, the more you believe it.

Too embarrassed to stand in front of a mirror doing this, then write it down in your journal.

You could also write down three things you are grateful for every day. Not the significant milestones but those small things that make you smile. Warm buttered toast, hot coffee, whatever makes your life a little better; add them daily and be grateful for them.

Both daily mantras and being grateful for the small things will help your mental health.

Stop drifting…Sprint to the finish. Write off your hopes, and if your well-being matters to you, be your own savior while you can. - Marcus Aurelius

Take it out on the page

When someone makes us angry, it is human nature to take it out on those closest to us. However, we rarely take it out on the person that caused us wrong. Of course, this is not fair, but we are all humans.

Use your journal to deal with your anger towards these people. No one will read it; you can be as rude and obnoxious as you like. Use this exercise to work through the anger and wrong that you feel.

We all make mistakes; if, like me, this makes you angry with yourself, then again, journal that anger away. Then, work through how you could have acted differently and how you will react next time.

We are far more likely to remember something if we write it down. When you react to the same problem again, you will remember what you wrote in your journal about dealing better and be able to act on it.

Lose your temper on the page, not with those around you. If you are still angry, tear that paper into tiny pieces and throw it in the bin; all of this helps deal with anger.

Reflect on wisdom

Some of the most influential people in history kept a commonplace book. Marcus Aurelius, one of the forward thinkers of Stoicism, had a book of thoughts. Virginia Wolff kept a book of her struggles to be a published author in a man's world.

Presidents Clinton and Reagan kept Rolodex systems that were a commonplace book. In it, they kept facts and lines to add to their speeches.

I write my favourite quotes down in my journal; it is a kaleidoscope of the greatest minds and mine all in one place.

These thoughts build our wisdom, one of the four principles of Stoicism.

Two eyes, two ears, one mouth. Remain a student. Act accordingly - and wisely. - Epictetus

Ask yourself tough questions

To improve your self-development, you need to ask yourself tough questions. Questions such as how could I have reacted better? Remembering that you can only control your reaction and not that of others.

The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own - Epictetus

You see where you can change by examining your external and internal behavioural influences.

This questioning of ourselves can also help professional development. Many articles here suggest analysing your statistics. These are the questions we should ask about all aspects of our life.

If we don't ask these questions, who will?

Review in the evening

This is the primary exercise that differs from morning pages. At the end of the day, you should reflect and process the day.

Look at what you have accomplished and what happened. Were there incidents that you can learn from? What went well? These are the lessons to carry with us into future days.

What did not go well? What lessons can we learn, so we do not repeat the same actions? Reflect on how you can do better tomorrow at every point in your life.

There is a reason why so many people talk about reflection. Reflecting on the lesson, I remember it was a significant part of my teaching degree. Reflection helps us learn from the future. Whether you do this formally or informally is a matter of preference.

What better place to do it, though, than in a journal that no one else reads?

Just journal

Stoicism is much more than journalling; it has four principles: wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage. You can develop all of these virtues through journaling.

Journaling is so much more than Stoicism. There are so many methods of journalling, as many as there are beautiful books to journal in. This is just one method. You could choose bullet journalling or traditional morning pages.

Whichever method you use, your life will improve if you start journaling. Even if it is three sentences noting what you are grateful for in the day. Start journaling today; then tell me your life is not better after a month.

Keep in touch with me here.

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About the Creator

Sam H Arnold

A writer obsessed with true crime, history and books. Find all my dedicated newsletters whether you are a true crime fan, bookworm or aspiring writer on Substack - https://substack.com/@samharnold

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