Looking back and moving forward

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.

Keeping check

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.

Looking forward

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.

Looking back and moving forward

Choices, always choicesComments

A podium and a prison is each a place, one high and the other low, but in either place your freedom of choice can be maintained if you so wish - Epictetus

Today's meditation really harkens back to the main principle of Stoicism: you can't change things beyond your control but you can change how you react to them.

The trick is in recognising what you can and can't control.

Just like someone confined to a prison cell, we may think our freedom of choice has been removed but we always have an element of control, no matter how small.

We live to schedules for so many things - transport, school, work; we turn up when we should, do our allotted time and go home when we're finished.

Beyond our control.

The Stoic philosophers believed that our existence was a preset pattern and that living a good life meant doing so in harmony with nature - not nature as we normally understand it but the true order of things.

As Seneca wrote: "Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant."

Whether you believe in fate or not, life has a way of dragging us along; we can resent it or we can embrace it.

We have a choice in how we act, what we do, and how we carry ourselves during the easy times and the difficult.

We can be humble or obnoxious, we can be steadfast or crumble. We can be depressed whilst surrounded by riches or ecstatic despite having nothing. It is how we respond to the situation that defines us, not the situation itself.

It is our choice to be willing or reluctant.

Choices, always choices

Because always

So, in the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit - Musonius Rufus.

Today's Daily Stoic meditation began as above, and the added commentary reminded me of this Write365 post:

Because always

There is an amazing hypocrisy in the actions of some. They complain when things don't change, when suggestions are made but passed over, when they feel they are being ignored.

They complain that things are stuck in a rut, that things are done because that's the way it has always been.

However, when reorganisations are made and new management is introduced an overwhelming cynicism prevents them from accepting that change can occur. So, when that new management says that processes will be re-examined and re-evaluated, that things won't be done just because that's the way it always has been, the very same people get defensive.

Better the devil you know?

No one likes change for the sake of it but when genuine change is introduced to improve process a fear kicks in - a fear of that change.

Those previously criticising existing process suddenly defend it, argue against the new ideas, claim that introducing them will be a mistake.

Their argument for doing so? Because this is the way we've always done it!

They can't have it both ways.

Some people get stuck in the same old rut but mistake it for a fond familiarity; they bury themselves so deeply within their comfort zone that they have forgotten how it feels to be outside, to be tested, to have to think for themselves.

No amount of justification can persuade them that change is good, change is an improvement, change is vital.

They just don't listen.

They feel threatened, under attack as if their integrity and work ethic are being questioned. They feel that they are not trusted to do their jobs - how could they be if someone wants to change things?

So, the question becomes: how do you break down that wall? How do you shine a new light into the darkness?

Because it's always been that way is neither a justification nor a defence.

Write365 - 7th October 2014

Further thoughts

"How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but it's really got to want to change"

It may be a silly old joke but many a true word is said in jest. People must want to change and, if they are unsure, that change must be sold effectively.

We demand good reason to change our habits but should always be open to doing so. If we never try a different way we miss out on new experiences and the possibility of finding a better path.

Perhaps a proposed change, even fully embraced, does not provide the expected benefits but we won't know unless we try. We lose little but gain affirmation, surety, the knowledge that we are doing things the best way we can.

And that is all we can hope for.

Because always