I will keep constant watch over myself and – most usefully – will put each day up for review – Seneca
It is a good idea to keep a check on our behaviour, to acknowledge what we have done, both good and bad, so that we can moderate and improve.
Seneca asserts that it makes us evil to only look at what we are going to do and ignore what we have done – only forwards, never back.
An exaggeration? Perhaps.
Evil is too strong a word – a touch melodramatic – which might suffer from being lost in translation. Still, we can see what he is getting at.
Of course, we need to assess what goes well and what goes badly. If we do not examine what has already happened then we cannot recognise and repeat good behaviour or learn from our mistakes so as to rectify them.
Stoic advice is writing a journal at the end of the day to evaluate what happened, how you lived. Writers, however, often recommend a daily brain dump first thing in the morning to clear your head before starting anew.
Which path to follow?
Should we favour the raw, immediate, and potentially emotion laden dissection or should we sleep on it and make our assessment with the benefit of hindsight?
Do we need that rawness or is it a hindrance? Are we able to effectively interpret our actions once we have become detached from their immediacy?
There is no single way.
Sometimes we need to shock ourselves into action as we may not see the severity of our behaviour. On other occasions we need to step back, remove ourselves from the situation as an emotionally charged reaction can do more harm than good.
Just as we need to reflect we also need to plan, to look ahead. At the end of each day Seneca may asked himself “What bad habit did I curb today?” or “How am I better?” but this is only half the story.
We need to examine what the new day holds and how we are going to live it. What actions can we take and what lessons can we bring forward to help us negotiate the next round of challenges?
We can assess the past but must not dwell on it; for, being consumed by what has already gone prevents us from dealing with what is yet to come.
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