Journal Like a Stoic – 6 Benefits of Putting Pen to Paper
“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.” – Marcus Aurelius
The Stoics were one of history’s biggest proponents of journaling. Epictetus said that with regards to our thoughts and musings, we should “write them, read them aloud, talk to yourself and others about them.” Seneca mentioned the importance of thinking and journaling about where we can improve. Marcus Aurelius, the most famous Stoic journaler, had an entire book made out of his Meditations that many consider to be a Bible some 2000 years later.
As the Daily Stoic points out:
“The private thoughts of one of the world’s greatest figures—about how to live well, about how to overcome adversity, about how to deal with frustrating people, about how to combat negative thinking, about how to make good on the responsibilities and obligations, about everything related to the human experience—survives to us. Meditations is perhaps the only document of its kind ever produced. And that it survives two thousand years later is a miracle and treasure.”
There are many benefits to journaling and here are just 6 that will enhance your life in incredible ways. To journal like a Stoic is to live a good life…
Mental clarity is one of the most overlooked benefits of journaling. Thoughts, by nature, are ephemeral and can come and go within the space of milliseconds. When we get stressed out, they speed up even faster and take our attention along for the ride too. Almost everyone can relate to thoughts spinning around at night or during a particularly stressful day.
Once you grab a pen and paper and write down what you are thinking or worried about, no matter how small they may seem, you are taking these swirls of energy in your mind called thoughts and putting them into physical form on a piece of paper. Thankfully, words don’t swirl around much on a piece of paper.
Once you have things written down, you can look at them from a bit of a distance rather than the ‘no-distance’ of your mind. Most of the time, you will come to realise just how silly the thoughts are or how difficult you were making a simple process. Negative thoughts, especially if believed in, can be extremely damaging both physically and mentally.
Next time you are confused or overthinking something, write it down. You will be amazed at how much your perspective shifts when you are looking at your thoughts rather than letting them roam formlessly in your mind.
Journal to Reduce Stress
One of the biggest reasons that people take up journaling is to reduce stress. Journaling can take many forms but most forms involve some sort of stress reduction.
Journaling for some degree of emotional release and mental clarity is a way of getting all of your worries down on to paper and out of your head. Whether you then keep those worries to reflect on and work on for later or you simply get your stressed thoughts down on a page and then shred or burn them, that’s up to you.
Either way, the act of physically writing out what you are going through and processing in your life is a big way (and a personal favourite of the Stoics) to de-stress from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Create a Habit-Building Foundation
The Stoics were big into habits as it allowed them to essentially ‘automate’ their productive behaviour – saving a lot of time and willpower in the process. For many of them, especially Marcus Aurelius, journaling was one of the cornerstones of forming positive habits.
Whether you pick up your journal every morning or every evening, every day or every other day, making some sort of habit of journaling is key to being consistent and to reap all of the other benefits on this list. Journaling before or after another habit that you want to pick up is a great way to ‘habit-link’ and keep those good habits stuck.
Increase Your Gratitude For Life
“Take full account of the excellencies which you possess, and in gratitude remember how you would hanker after them, if you had them not.” – Marcus Aurelius
The Stoics also liked to implement ‘gratitude journaling’ to help them de-stress. In his book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius frequently discusses the importance of gratitude for living a happy life.
Maybe you had a poor night sleep again because you live by a road and the morning traffic was louder than usual. Hey, at least you had a comfy bed to sleep in? A roof over your head? A coffee at your disposal as soon as you woke up? A loved one to greet you with a smile? Practising gratitude in your head is powerful, but writing all of these seemingly trivial things down only magnifies its power. As a result, you are far less stressed too.
Meditating on and journaling on the idea of death also made the Stoics much more grateful for life. This is the whole idea behind “Memento Mori“ – to remember you must die is to remember you must live. This is partly why we created this store too, because physical reminders last longer than fleeting quotes in our head.
Journaling Increases Motivation
Motivation isn’t often linked with journal writing but it is certainly a by-product that comes with writing thoughts, feelings, ideas and plans down. Writing down your goals for the future, the systems that you plan on using to get there and the potential obstacles that you might face is an extremely motivating aspect of journaling.
Obviously, your plan and perception aren’t always going to be accurate, but that is kind of the point. Your journal will never leave you. If an obstacle didn’t appear or more obstacles than you thought did appear, write them down, gain some clarity and keep moving. Amor Fati or ‘the love of one’s fate’ is important here, and is always an extremely motivating and liberating thing to remember in life.
Get Better Sleep
The Stoics don’t mention sleep too often throughout their works, but the importance of sleep is becoming increasingly evident in the modern world and journaling is a fantastic method of getting you some good quality shut-eye.
Journaling can give you better sleep due to the very simple fact that it is the process of dumping your thoughts on to paper, no matter how weird, powerful or seemingly irrelevant they are. If the first time you stop all day is when you lie down to go to sleep, is it any surprise that all of the thoughts from the day and the week swirl around your head and you can’t sleep?
Think of your brain as a train rolling into a station. The train is your racing mind that has been steaming along the tracks all day. The station is sleep. If you apply the brakes 5 metres from the station, guess what? You aren’t going to stop at the platform. You are going to slow down gradually and end up stopping way after you were supposed to.
The act of journaling, particularly before bed, is like applying the brakes on your train way in advance. It is dumping all of your thoughts and feelings on to paper so that when it is time to hit the pillow, there is nothing left to think or worry about. Your mind is at peace because it has calmed the storm inside already, allowing you to sleep quicker and easier.