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9 Stoic Journal Prompts
A Simple Approach To Daily Journaling
The practice of regular journaling has exploded in popularity in recent years.
From a blank page to dedicated apps to the Daily Stoic Journal, there are any number of well-crafted receptacles available for your personal writings.
And from AM to PM, from home to work to anywhere else, the ease with which you can do it regardless of time and location makes it an appealing habit to take up.
Asked about their favourite and most effective self-improvement technique, more and more people who are held up as role models seem to be pointing to journaling.
And let’s not forget, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, probably the most famous Stoic book of them all, was never meant for publication — it was the Roman Emperor’s own private journal.
So what are the benefits of journaling and how is it done?
Benefits Of Journaling
At worst, journaling can help get persistent worries out of your head and onto paper so you can get on with your day. At best, it can be transformational to your mindset by forcing you to really think deeply about the events in your life and how you are reacting to them.
If practised regularly, journaling can help you:
Calm and clear your mind
Make decisions more objectively
Embrace the events of your life
Reflect on what you have learned
Let go of negative thoughts
Increase your sense of gratitude
Improve your writing ability
Explore and settle strong emotions
Boost your self-awareness
Plan for and prevent future troubles
Build self-discipline by making it a habit
Creatively find solutions for everyday problems
Track your progress in applying Stoic principles in your life
To work towards the benefits above, here are 9 Stoic journal prompts you can try daily.
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Stoic Journal Prompts For Morning, Afternoon, And Evening
The following are short Stoic journal prompts you can use at different milestones in your day — morning, afternoon, and evening. Covering the whole day means you’re able to prepare for what you may face, deal with events as they happen, and review how you did.
If you’re just starting a journaling practice, it might be a good idea to set a reminder so you don’t miss a session. As with any new habit, it may seem daunting in the beginning but just remember to start small — even if each session only takes five minutes, you’re still building a muscle that will continue to get stronger.
“At the start of the day tell yourself: I shall meet people who are officious, ungrateful, abusive, treacherous, malicious, and selfish. In every case, they’ve got like this because of their ignorance of good and bad. But I have seen goodness and badness for what they are, and I know that what is good is what is morally right, and what is bad is what is morally wrong; and I’ve seen the true nature of the wrongdoer himself and know that he’s related to me — not in the sense that we share blood and seed, but by virtue of the fact that we both partake of the same intelligence, and so of a portion of the divine. None of them can harm me, anyway, because none of them can infect me with immorality, nor can I become angry with someone who’s related to me, or hate him, because we were born to work together, like feet or hands or eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth.”
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1
Morning journaling is a great way to set yourself up for a successful day or, at the very least, to prepare yourself for what’s ahead. You might consider writing down these morning affirmations as a means of mentally warming up or you could use these three prompts.
1. What difficulties am I likely to encounter today?
Try to make these as realistic as possible and specific to your plans for the day. For each difficulty, note how you intend to respond in a Stoic manner (i.e. with practical wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation).
Challenging tasks at work
Obnoxious people in public
Uncomfortable conversations with friends/family
2. What one thing do I most need to get done today?
This might be something you’ve been putting off for a while. Whatever it is, completing it would be a worthy use of your time and would make today a success.
A household repair/chore
Returning a call from an old friend
Booking an appointment that is overdue
3. What am I grateful for today?
Gratitude can come from many sources. It could be for something incredibly small and simple or for something amazing and unexpected that has happened in your life recently. It could even be for a difficulty you’re facing — feeling gratitude for the opportunity to test yourself and grow is a very Stoic way of looking at challenges.
“I am grateful I woke up this morning.”
“I am grateful to have friends and family who care about me.”
“I am grateful that life is difficult right now. I know it will pass and I will emerge stronger.”
“Every day and night keep thoughts like these at hand — write them, read them aloud, talk to yourself and others about them.”
- Epictetus, Discourses 3.24
Afternoon journaling can help you process whatever events have occurred in the first half of your day. It will help you assess how your day has started and reset your mind if something is bothering you.
4. What is worrying me?
This is a great opportunity to unload any mental weight that’s pushing your mood down. Freely write down any persistent worries that have been bouncing around in your head. This type of “purge” can feel very cathartic.
Worries about something that happened this morning
Worries about an upcoming event later in the day
Worries about a friend or loved one
5. How can I decatastrophize today’s problems?
When you put your worries onto paper they leave the realm of vagueness that exists in your head and take on a more specific nature. It is much easier to solve a specific problem than a vague one, and easier still to solve a problem that is stated as objectively as possible. For each worry from the previous prompt that you think still requires attention, write it out in the most boring, unemotional language possible. Viewed this way, it should seem a lot less catastrophic.
“I’ve been given a really difficult new project at work that is way beyond my level of ability. I’ll never understand it and when people see me fail they’ll realise I’m not good enough for this job.”
“I have a new project at work. I will determine what I need to do first and get started. Regardless of the difficulty, I can only do my best.”
6. What is within my control and what is not?
Now that you have a clearly stated worry/problem, you can more effectively plan what to do about it. Write down the elements of the problem that are within your control and the elements that are not. In the list of things within your control, you now have well-defined tasks you can focus on in order to work through the problem. This will help take your mind off the elements of the problem that are outside your control.
Taking the previous example of a work project:
“I can make a plan and break it down into manageable steps. I can ask for help. I can make the most of what I have at my disposal. These things are within my control.”
“I cannot control the projects I am given or how people will react to what I do. I cannot even fully control the success of the project as it may depend on other external factors. I can control the attitude I adopt and the effort I apply to the project.”
“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.”
- Seneca, On Anger 3.36
“Admit not sleep into your tender eyelids
Till you have reckoned up each deed of the day —
How have I erred, what done or left undone?
So start, and so review your acts, and then
For vile deeds chide yourself, for good be glad.”
- Epictetus, Discourses 3.10
Evening journaling is when you review the events of your day. This is an important practice in self-improvement as it reveals what you can do better tomorrow. When reviewing your day, always remember: the goal is never to beat yourself up for the mistakes you made. It is simply to create an awareness of those mistakes and to commit to not making them again.
7. What did I do well today?
Begin your review by taking a note of what you did well today. It’s helpful to see these things written down as they provide a form of concrete proof that you are on the right path.
In what situations did you respond in a Stoic manner?
Did you invoke the virtues of moderation, courage, wisdom, and justice?
If nothing else, were you kind to those you interacted with?
8. What could I have done better today?
Look back again over the events of the day and write about the times you fell short of your Stoic standards. Similar to the decatastrophizing prompt, use objective and unemotional language so as not to exaggerate the descriptions. Think of these moments not as failures, but as lessons — good feedback you can use to become the best version of yourself.
In what situations did you let negative emotions such as anger guide your actions?
Did you do anything to excess?
Did you give in to fear or treat anyone unkindly?
9. How will I improve tomorrow?
To bring your day of journaling to a close in a positive manner, set your intentions for tomorrow. Of the things you could have done better today, what small step will you take tomorrow to approach them in a more virtuous manner?
“I will pause before reacting when I feel strong emotions.”
“I will do a little less of what I did to excess today.”
“I will face my fears in a controlled way, show courage and see every person I meet as an opportunity for kindness.”
If you’re interested in a Stoic journaling program that provides prompts everyday, check out Practical Philosophy’s 365 Day Stoic Journaling Program. Thanks for reading!
This article was originally published on Medium by Allan. Allan is a guest writer for this Substack and if you’d like to follow him outside of this publication, please be sure to check out his profile.